DOVER -- Before the beginning of 2018, Union Hospital will be joining the Cleveland Clinic health system.

Representatives of Cleveland Clinic and the Union Hospital Board of Trustees will begin the process to finalize a definitive agreement and seek regulatory approvals so that the hospital can become part of Cleveland Clinic no later than Jan. 1.

After searching for a partner since last September, the board made the decision Monday to choose Cleveland Clinic.

"We can't give you a lot of details because we haven't worked out all of those details," Bruce James, Union Hospital's president and chief operating officer, said in making the announcement Wednesday.

"I was a little surprised that someone as large and complex as the Cleveland Clinic would be interested in coming to Tuscarawas County and working with us," he said. "But as we got to talk to them, they are interested in growing our services, taking what Union Hospital has become and making it bigger and better -- making sure that we have the right physicians, continuing to add physicians to what we're doing, protecting the services that we've grown over the 111 years we've been here and add services to that.

"So we were real excited as we sat down and started talking about what and how and those sort of things. They have a philosophy of patients first. Their mission is very similar to ours."

Added Ann Huston, Cleveland Clinic's chief strategy officer, "We are absolutely excited and really more than than, so honored to have been selected as the partner. This is very important for this community.

"We understand that. We also will tell you it's very important for us. We couldn't be more thrilled to have the opportunity to work together to collaborate, to learn from each other, to share resources and grow and make this organization even better for the crazy times in healthcare ahead."

As part of the agreement, Union Hospital will become a wholly owned part of the Cleveland Clinic, but the name will likely stay the same.

"We understand this is an asset of this community, and it is known as Union Hospital," Huston said. "We would be foolish to abandon that in any way. What I think we will do, which is common to what we've done, we will attach the Cleveland Clinic brand as well so that people know we are one family, but preserving very strong local roots and a local identity as well."

Union Hospital has 1,150 employees, making it the largest employer in Tuscarawas County. James said this partnership will help preserve those jobs.

"We did this in part to help grow jobs, to bring new opportunities here," he said. "Are all the people going to be in the same positions they were in?

"No, they may not be. But one of the things the Cleveland Clinic was very good about saying is when they've changed out things in other organizations that they've had, they've made opportunities available for the people that are there. They are committed to trying to make sure that the people that have jobs at Union keep jobs and that we're going to grow jobs."

Had Union Hospital remained on its own, "there would probably be less jobs," James said.

Last year, the hospital eliminated 20 jobs as part of a $3 million cost-cutting effort.

Cleveland Clinic generated an estimated $8 billion in operating revenue in 2016 and is one of the largest and most recognized hospital systems in the United States, ranking second nationally in the "Best Hospitals" category of the U.S. News & World Report annual ratings.

It currently operates 10 regional hospitals in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina and Summit counties.

Dr. George Crile, one of the founders of the Cleveland Clinic, was a native of Coshocton County.