PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (AP) — Two health care providers in eastern Kentucky have announced plans to merge.

WYMT-TV cited a statement from Appalachian Regional Healthcare and Highlands Health System in reporting the merger, which officials say they hope to finalize by early next year.

Highlands Health System President Harold C. Warman said the merger would ensure that the communities served by the Prestonsburg-based system will continue to have local access to quality health care.

Under the agreement, Highlands Regional Medical Center will operate as Highlands ARH Regional Medical Center, and will become the 12th hospital in the Appalachian Regional Healthcare system. Outpatient facilities in Floyd, Johnson, Martin and Magoffin counties also are included in the merger.

Appalachian Regional Healthcare is a not-for-profit health system serving 350,000 residents across Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia.

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Information from: WYMT-TV, http://www.wymt.com/