Leaders of HSHS hospitals in Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls announced a new affiliation with a group of physician-owned clinics in the Chippewa Valley.

The new bond between HSHS Sacred Heart and HSHS St. Joseph's hospitals with OakLeaf Clinics was unveiled at noon Thursday at a news conference at Sacred Heart in Eau Claire.

The health care providers had an informal relationship before as their physicians have worked together to care for patients that went to both the hospitals and clinics.

This allows us to go beyond "welcome guests" in HSHS hospitals to a more formal relationship, said Dr. Chris Longbella, president of OakLeaf Clinics.

The new financial and organizational arrangement allows a stronger "continuum of care" between the clinics and hospitals. The affiliation also allows joint discussions and planning, which government regulations prohibited between the two organizations when they were independent of each other.

For more on the new relationship between the longtime Chippewa Valley health care providers, read Friday's Leader-Telegram.