West Des Moines-based UnityPoint Health and Meriter Health Services in Madison, Wis., announced Thursday that they have agreed to combine their operations through an affiliation agreement in which Meriter will become an affiliate of UnityPoint. The announcement marks a substantial step toward creating a strategic partnership that will complement UnityPoint's current provider group and expand its service area to Meriter's South Central Wisconsin region, UnityPoint officials said in a press release. Meriter Health Systems is made up of Meriter Medical Group, which offers primary and specialty care; Meriter Hospital, a nonprofit 448-bed community hospital; and Physicians Plus Insurance Corp. "The strengths, both individual and shared, of our two organizations create exciting opportunities to successfully navigate the changing healthcare landscape," UnityPoint CEO Bill Leaver said in a release. "Together, we will improve access, value and quality care throughout the Madison region." UnityPoint Health is the nation's 13th-largest nonprofit health system, with annual revenues of $2.7 billion.