- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island’s last independent hospital is opening exclusive merger talks with a Massachusetts-based health system.

The Providence Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1frR9uP ) Wednesday that South County Hospital’s board of trustees voted this week to authorize exclusive discussions with Southcoast Health System of New Bedford.

South County has been assessing potential merger partners for more than a year. The hospital says it received offers from two of the four health systems it had considered. The paper reports Southcoast’s proposal gave South County “substantial local governance” and promised enhanced local services and to preserve existing patterns of care.

Hospital officials have said approval of the plan from here could take 12 to 18 months.

Southcoast owns St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford, Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River and Tobey Hospital in Wareham.

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Information from: The Providence Journal, http://www.providencejournal.com