CHICAGO (CBS) — Two of the state’s largest health care systems have announced plans to merge.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports Advocate Health Care and NorthShore University HealthSystem plan to join forces to create Advocate NorthShore Health Partners, which would be the largest non-profit hospital system in Illinois.

The merger would create a network of 16 hospitals, 6,000 physicians, 45,000 employees, and more than 350 care sites; serving approximately 3 million patients a year in northern and central Illinois. The combined network would have a value of nearly $7 billion.

Officials for the two networks said the merger is expected to be completed early next year.

The deal requires the approval of the Federal Trade Commission, the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, and the United Church of Christ – which is affiliated with Advocate.

The two health systems’ boards approved the merger this week, and announced the plan to doctors and other employees on Friday.

Advocate President and CEO Jim Skogsbergh said the merger would allow the network to take advantage of its size and bring down health care costs for the hospitals and their patients.

“When we purchase, let’s say devices, or we purchase supplies, we’re not purchasing just for Advocate anymore; we’re purchasing for a much larger organization,” he said. “We know that’s going to command a better price.”

He said the merger should benefit patients medically as well, through added medical resources.

“We’ll absolutely have better health outcomes, improved safety, and lower costs,” he said. “Making health care more affordable is really what it’s all about these days.”

Skogsbergh said, while he expects a reduction from the current level of 45,000 employees in the two hospital networks, the reduced staffing should largely come from attrition, not large-scale layoffs.

Officials said current patients should not have switch doctors after the merger; they’ll just have more doctors to choose from.

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