A pair of community hospitals in North Central Massachusetts have agreed to form a strategic alliance, accelerating the state’s trend toward health care industry consolidation.

Heywood Hospital, a 153-bed community hospital in Gardner, said it signed a letter of intent to align with Athol Memorial Hospital, a 25-bed facility serving the North Quabbin area.

Under the agreement, the two hospitals will continue to operate independently, but be governed by a common board of trustees drawn from the current Heywood and Athol boards. They will also create an umbrella administrative structure, with Athol’s president and chief executive, Winfield S. Brown, serving as president and chief executive of the overall organization.

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The parties said in a statement that the partnership will enable them to take advantage of economies of scale and make their services more efficient. “We see the agreement with Athol Memorial as forming the basis for a true community-owned health care system in North Central Massachusetts,” Brown said. “This system will provide a greater breadth and depth of health care services along a wider continuum of care and provide greater coordination of care.”

Athol Memorial had previously explored affiliating with for-profit Vanguard Health System, which owns Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester. But in the end, Vanguard encouraged Athol Memorial to strike an alliance with Heywood, according to Erik Wexler, president of Vanguard Health System—New England and chief executive of Saint Vincent Hospital.