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Winchester Hospital, Lahey Health plan to link

Winchester Hospital’s board has signed a letter of intent to affiliate with Lahey Health, the parent organization of Lahey Clinic in Burlington, in the latest example of a community hospital seeking to join a larger health care network as the medical market consolidates.

In a joint statement released late Tuesday afternoon, the two parties said they were teaming up to better coordinate care for the patients in communities stretching from Northeastern Massachusetts into Southern New Hampshire. The presidents of Lahey and Winchester both declined requests to discuss their affiliation plans.

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The preliminary deal, which still requires a formal agreement to affiliate, was struck against a backdrop of continuing expansion by larger Boston-based hospital groups such as Partners HealthCare System, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Steward Health Care System, all of which have been rapidly acquiring community hospitals.

The parties released few details of their proposed affiliation, saying only that Winchester would join Lahey Health under a “shared governance model.” It was not clear if that would mirror the kind of outright acquisitions envisioned in Partners’ agreement to take over South Shore Hospital in Weymouth and the Beth Israel Deaconess deal to absorb Jordan Hospital in Plymouth.

An alliance with Winchester Hospital would strengthen Lahey’s suburban network at a time when hospitals and other health care organizations are banding together, said Ruselle W. Robinson, health care attorney for Boston law firm Posternak Blankstein & Lund.

“Part of it is because that’s what everyone’s doing,” Robinson said. “You don’t want to be left out if you’re a community hospital. The other part is you want to be able to have an integrated patient care model. You want to be able to better coordinate care and access electronic medical records across a network. The infrastructure costs money, and it matters that you’re part of a larger organization.”

Lahey, a teaching affiliate of Tufts University School of Medicine, last year merged with Northeast Health System, the parent of Beverly Hospital and Addison Gilbert Hospital of Gloucester, to create a more formidable network in the suburbs north of Boston.

The combined system, called Lahey Health, entered preliminary talks this spring with Beth Israel Deaconess, Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at BIDMC, the Lahey Clinic Physicians Group, and Atrius Health, a consortium of community doctors groups that refer patients to Beth Israel and Lahey. Those parties have yet to agree to an alliance.

In the statement by Lahey and Winchester, the parties said the 229-bed Winchester Hospital formed a steering committee last summer to identify a “strategic partner.” The committee hired consulting firm Navigant Capital Advisors and law firm Mintz Levin Cohen Ferris Glovsky and Popeo to consider several potential partners and ultimately chose Lahey.

Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.
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