NEW BRUNSWICK — Patients in Central Jersey may soon have one healthcare system overseeing this city's hospitals as groundwork has been laid for a merger.

A non-binding letter of intent was unveiled Tuesday that would explore a potential partnership between Saint Peter's Healthcare System and RWJBarnabas Health, according to a press release from St. Peter's, which also said a definitive agreement was expected within the coming months.

The development follows Saint Peter’s announcement in October 2018 that it was considering a strategic partner.

The RWJBarnabas system currently includes 11 hospitals, four children's hospitals, four urgent care centers, 21 specialty centers and 14 pediatric care centers.

Saint Peter’s University Hospital, a 478-bed acute-care teaching hospital sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Metuchen, is the flagship of Saint Peters Healthcare System. It also includes the Children’s Hospital at Saint Peter’s.

Under terms of the tentative plan, RWJBH would make significant investments in Saint Peter’s and expand the network of outpatient services at the hospital.

Saint Peter’s also would remain a Catholic institution, according to the non-binding proposal.

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