CHICAGO — The nation’s largest nonprofit health care provider, Ascension Health, will acquire Alexian Brothers Health System, a union that marks the latest in a consolidation trend as hospital systems seek to bolster their capital positions and navigate the challenges of federal health care reform.

St. Louis-based Ascension and Arlington Heights, Ill.-based Alexian Brothers signed a non-binding letter of intent Wednesday. They hope to complete the merger by the end of the year. Illinois regulatory approval is needed. The systems did not release any financial details.

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