So what's in store now that Meridian Health and Hackensack University Health Network have announced plans to merge?

After Thursday's signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, it could take up to four months to get to the definitive merger agreement, according to a Meridian press release. Once finalized, both non-profit health care organizations are planning to share governance of the new organization 50/50.

"There will be equal governance from each organization," said Meridian President and CEO John Lloyd. "And Bob Garrett (of Hackensack University Network) and I would be co-presidents and co-ceo's for two and a half years and after those two and a half years, Bob Garrett would become President and CEO of the new entity."

They're also reportedly planning to find a centralized headquarters location to house the new health care organization.

Lloyd says the Hackensack University Health Network compliments the work they're already doing and brings strength in a major area.

"They have the breadth and depth of clinical services that are ranked nationally that we don't have. So in areas where we're not quite at that level we would expect that they would help us."

On the other hand, Garrett said "Meridian brings it's extensive network of non-hospital entities including a very robust Ambulatory Care Network."

The planned merger didn't just happen overnight. Lloyd said they've been exploring the possibility of joining forces with a number of health care organizations over the years. He describes the Hackensack University Health Network as one with a similar culture, goals and innovative approach to health care.

Garrett believes that all patients will benefit from Hackensack's advanced clinical research and he says both institutions have a track record in reducing health care cost.

Meridian operates six shore hospitals from Holmdel to Manahawkin. They're also planning to acquire the Raritan Bay Medical Center in Perth Amboy and Old Bridge.