Mercy Hospital's board of directors voted Monday night to affiliate with Essentia Health, headquartered in Duluth. The hospital had issued a request for proposals earlier this fall, seeking a potential health partner to provide greater stability and bring improved resources to its operation in Moose Lake.

A release said that after examining the proposals it received in response, "Board members chose Essentia, citing its strongly aligned mission and values and Essentia's plan to grow primary- and specialty-care services in Moose Lake, along with hospital and emergency care."

Monday's vote will be followed by a due-diligence period, during which both organizations will be able to analyze the proposed partnership in greater detail. This work is expected to take six to nine months to complete, before any partnership is formalized.

If finalized, the agreement is expected to bring an end to the local tax levy currently required to support the hospital.

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"A partnership with Essentia is a great fit for our hospital and the communities we serve," Mercy CEO Mike Youso said in a written statement. "Essentia is committing to provide more services close to home for our patients and to explore new opportunities like telehealth."

The relationship is intended to provide seamless care and record-keeping for treatment patients receive anywhere in the Essentia system, Youso said.

Dr. Jon Pryor, president of Essentia's operations in northeastern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin, issued a statement: "We believe this affiliation is a win for Mercy, helping the hospital prosper at a time of increasing challenges in health care, and a win for Essentia, allowing us to meet our mission of making a healthy difference in people's lives.

"Most importantly, it's a win for the patients and communities we are privileged to serve, allowing our organizations to work together to provide high-quality health care close to home," Pryor said.

Essentia CEO David Herman issued the following statement: "After more than 20 years as an integrated health system, we recognize the value of coordinated, seamless care and strong networks of clinics and hospitals. We look forward to realizing the promise this partnership holds for our communities."