JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - Top administrators for rival health care providers Mountain States Health Alliance and Wellmont Health System have announced plans to explore a merger.

Mountain States CEO Alan Levine said combining the two systems would create a $1.8 billion health care nonprofit and would benefit patients, employees and the communities they serve.

Media report the merger would put 19 hospitals and 15,000 employees in southwest Virginia and northeast Tennessee under the control of one organization.

Mountain States and Wellmont plan to iron out details of the merger, which would need approval from both states and from antitrust regulators before it is finalized.

The proposal calls for Levine to serve as executive chairman of the board of directors and Wellmont CEO Bart Hove to serve as the CEO of the new company.

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