The Wimmera Health Care Group and Ballarat Health Services have confirmed they are exploring whether to amalgamate.
In August, the two health organisations announced they had appointed consulting firm Cube to analyse better partnering options.
They will now move to stage two of the investigation process, which will involve further assessment and three months of community consultation starting on Monday.
WHCG board chair Maree Aitken said analysis had shown Wimmera residents would receive better health outcomes and better access to clinical health care in the region if the two services worked more closely.
"The board has a strong criteria that specifies no net job losses, but at this stage any talk about workforce changes would be guesswork," she said. "We are trying to find ways to expand and improve our services, and we wold be anticipating increased services would bring increased job and training opportunities.
"We are looking at two options: Existing and expanding strengthening partnerhips and possible voluntary amalgamation. COVID-19 has made us realise how much stronger we can be if we work in one integrated system.
"Through COVID, our intensive care unit had to be preared for a rapid repsonse, and we had support coming from BHS to assist us, and that was highly regarded by the team members that participated. The same is true for our residential aged care: We were able to share resources, learning and expertise to care for our vulnerable elderly residents."
Ms Aitken said six Wimmera residents travelled to Ballarat for services each day on average, and the number was increasing.
"We are hoping to claim back some of those services, and we're looking into exactly what they are," she said.
Ballarat Health Services Board chair Natalie Reiter said: "Community engagement is an important part of the process and there will also be a due diligence assessment in relation to workforce, financial, service delivery and governance impacts of any partnership."
How to have your say
The WHCG has also announced its Read Street COVID-19 Testing Clinic will be closed for Melbourne Cup Day on Tuesday.
On social media, the organisation said the clinic would be open every other day as usual. It is open 1pm to 4pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 12 noon on weekends, with no need to book an appointment before turning up.
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