PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island's two largest hospital groups, spurred by increased cooperation during he coronavirus pandemic, have restarted talks to boost collaboration and form with Brown University what one executive called an “integrated, unified, academic health care system."

Lifespan and Care New England have in the past entered merger talks, most recently last year, but they always failed.

Lifespan President and CEO Dr. Timothy Babineau and Care New England President and CEO Dr. James Fanale said increased collaboration would be in the best interests of the state.

“During the past few months of the COVID-19 crisis, Lifespan and Care New England have been working together in unprecedented ways to benefit the people of Rhode Island, our patients and employees. As a result, both parties have agreed to enter into an exploration process to understand the pros and cons of what a formal continuation of this collaboration could look like in the future," they said Tuesday in a joint statement.

Brown President Christina Paxson welcomed the news.

“Any effort to increase collaboration between these two systems comes with the potential to benefit health care for Rhode Islanders and to advance biomedical research in partnership with Brown," she told The Providence Journal.

Talks are expected to take several months.