CHICAGO — University Hospitals Health System, one of Cleveland's largest systems, is looking to acquire EMH Healthcare, a small system based in nearby Lorain County.

The two providers signed a letter of intent announcing the acquisition last week. They hope to close the deal by the end of the year.

Hospitals across the non-profit health care sector are partnering at a near-record pace in part to prepare for changes under the new federal health care law.

"Given the economic realities of today, along with what health care reform will bring in the future, this new vision of becoming part of UH will help ensure that EMH continues to be a valuable resource for the communities we serve," EMH Healthcare's chief executive, Donald Sheldon, said in a statement.

The move would give University Hospitals a hospital on the city's West Side, closer to its competition at Cleveland Clinic, according to local reports.

University Hospitals has 10 hospitals and 20 outpatient health centers across the state.

In February, Catholic Health Partners, Ohio's largest provider, announced plans to acquire Akron-based Summa Health System.

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