LEBANON, N.H. (AP) _ Dartmouth-Hitchcock health system is exploring a partnership to improve access to home health care and hospice services in New Hampshire and Vermont.

The health system is considering a formal affiliation with Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire to strengthen both organizations’ ability to reach patients.

Officials say the proposed affiliation would help people avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and streamline the transition from hospital to home. Through the joint development of the new Dartmouth-Hitchcock Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, patients also would gain access to state-of-the-art inpatient care focused on the personal rather than medical, officials said.

“The care provided by VNH is a critical component of Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s culture of caring and helps fulfill our mission of truly integrated population health management _ providing the right care to well-informed patients when and where they need it,” said Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Dr. James Weinstein.

Discussions between the boards of both organizations began in late 2014. If all goes according to plan, a formal agreement could be finalized by fall.