St. Joseph Mercy Health System and Chelsea Community Hospital last week signed a letter of intent to spend the next few months exploring an acquisition of Chelsea by St. Joseph’s.

St. Joseph is a member of Novi, Mich.-based Trinity Health, the fourth-largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. Chelsea Hospital, which has 113 beds and 300 doctors, is located west of Ann Arbor in the town of Chelsea and is one of the area’s last independent hospitals.

“In the ever-evolving health care environment, it has become increasingly difficult for smaller independent hospitals to survive, and CCH is not immune to such challenges,” officials said in a statement announcing the proposal last week.

St. Joseph operates four hospitals in southeastern Michigan, as well as three additional clinical sites.

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