EXETER — Exeter Health Resources, Massachusetts General Hospital and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital will explore a regional network opportunity to collaboratively deliver health care in the Seacoast.

If full agreement is reached and approved by federal and the state governments of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, EHR will become an acquisition of Mass General, as Wentworth-Douglass did in January 2017.

EHR, Mass General and Wentworth-Douglass Hospital signed a letter of intent to explore opportunities to develop the new regional network. A regional nonprofit corporation will be developed that serves as the parent to EHR and Wentworth-Douglass, and the new corporation will be a subsidiary of Mass General.

“No money exchanges hands, so this is not a sale in either case, as a traditional sale would be considered,” said Tony James, senior vice president of network development and Integration for MGH. “All parties are nonprofits. Legally, it’s called an acquisition. We are the sole corporate member of the board. When we do these we usually let management remain local. In this case because of the proximity of the two hospitals, we are creating a new parent board, which reports to us on behalf of both hospitals.”

Kevin Callahan, president and CEO of Exeter Health Resources, said an integrated regional health-care network will allow Exeter Health Resources and its affiliates, Exeter Hospital Core Physicians and Rockingham VNA & Hospice, to advance their collective mission of improving the health of the community through the provision of high-quality health-care services.

“MGH offers world-wide strengths and we have had a long-time cancer service relationship with them,” Callahan said. “We know their mission and their values and they align with ours. Through this we believe we can take advantage of the respective strengths of all three groups to offer better care for our patients and that is what is most important to all of us. We are positive this is the right decision at the right time for our community.”

Mark Whitney, vice president of strategy and community relations for EHR, said health care is evolving at faster and faster rates, making collaboration common sense.

“As stewards of the health care for this region, we want our patients to never have to wonder if they are receiving the best care,” Whitney said. “So leveraging strengths, experience, with new thinking and the best clinical experiences assures that for our patients.”

As part of the acquisition process, the organizations will look at ways to support a shared vision of strengthening, enhancing and growing clinical programs and services to best meet the health-care needs of the Seacoast, while providing care in a cost-effective, coordinated and sustainable manner, according to hospital officials.

The boards of each organization authorized the letter of intent and will now focus on a due diligence phase to negotiate a definitive agreement that will be subject to review by state and federal regulatory agencies. The diligence and regulatory review process is expected to take 15 to 18 months.

James said MGH considers such acquisitions as these a way to extend their family of services.

“You do a lot more for your family than you do for others in most cases,” he said. “We will offer extended clinical program services, better purchasing power and eventually we will all be on the same electronic reporting system, so no matter where you go for services, we are all connected for medical records and technical support systems.”

James said the collaboration will allow more efficiency in providing and retaining medical staff and in some cases physicians may work at both or all three hospitals.

Community forums will be hosted in the Seacoast for residents to learn more about the proposed network.

Greg Walker, president and CEO of Wentworth-Douglass, said Exeter Hospital’s administration reached out to them about nine months ago to begin talks about the possibility of joining with the Partners HealthCare organization, which includes Mass General.

“I see this as very positive because as organizations we have very similar profiles, yet we serve different geographic areas,” Walker said. “The resources of combining and working with MGH, which we both do to some extent already, made it seem a good fit.”

Since joining Mass General, Wentworth-Douglass has begun implementing a system-wide electronic medical record system and business support applications to create a more seamless experience for patients. The organizations have also collaborated on clinical program development, adding new specialized programs in epilepsy treatment, congestive heart failure and electrophysiology.

“When we joined Mass General, our vision was to bring greater access to the highest-quality clinical care in the region; to develop the most qualified and capable physician network supported by the most sophisticated technology and advanced health records systems and to continue to deliver care locally,” Walker said. “In our time with MGH, we have reduced expenses by $4 million, through their marketplace advantages.”

Commitment to improving the health of residents in their local communities is a goal shared by all three institutions, said Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president.

“For more than a decade, we have enjoyed a successful clinical affiliation with Exeter Health Resources and last year we were honored to expand our relationship with Wentworth-Douglass,” he said. “We look forward to future discussions to explore how – together – we can focus on enhancing care and extending access, availability of services, and slowing the rate of rising health-care costs.”

Portsmouth Regional Hospital CEO Dean Carucci responded to the acquisition in a prepared statement.

“Affiliation and acquisition conversations occur frequently in health care,” he said. “Consolidation of services is a trend not only here in New Hampshire but nationwide. Portsmouth Regional Hospital believes one of the most critical aspects of patient care is ensuring access to health care in the community in which they live.”

Carucci cited Portsmouth Regional’s status as the state’s only ACS Verified Level II Trauma Center, the Seacoast’s only comprehensive heart and vascular program and its only 24/7 neurosurgical and stroke clot retrieval programs, as well as comprehensive behavioral services.

“We wholeheartedly believe that the benefits of receiving care in the community in which you live leads to better health-care outcomes,” he said.