CHICAGO — Novi, Mich.-based Trinity Health’s possible acquisition of the stand-alone, 159-year-old Mercy Health System, based in Chicago, last week advanced when the two Catholic health care providers announced they had signed a nonbinding letter of intent to negotiate a union.

“While we stand strong today, we realize that with the uncertainties of health care reform and the challenges facing stand-alone hospitals, we need to be responsible and consider an affiliation with a larger Catholic health system,” Mercy’s president, Sister Sheila Lyne, said in a statement.

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