The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and Sanford, a healthcare system with 44 hospitals and nearly 300 clinics, are moving forward with plans to merge the organizations by Jan. 1, executives have announced.

Each organization’s governing board approved the affiliation this week, which will merge 19,000 Good Sam employees in 24 states with 28,000 Sanford employees in nine states. Good Samaritan in recent years was the largest nonprofit provider of skilled nursing services in the country but the largely rural provider has contemplated shedding assets in recent years amid tough market conditions.

The organizations will evaluate benefits and retirement plans, and “we’ll take best practices,” said Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO of Sanford, during a Facebook Live event Tuesday. But both he and David J. Horazdovsky, president and CEO of the Good Samaritan Society, indicated the merger will mean growth and more opportunities for employees rather than potential layoffs.

“We see exciting opportunities and each and every one of our employees is important to the future,” Horazdovsky said. “We’re in a growth mode. Our employees are the core of all that we do.”

“We know our 50,000 combined families will now receive paychecks from Sanford Health and the Good Sam Society,” Krabbenhoft added.

A Good Sam spokesman added Wednesday that the “affiliation may also provide a flexible staffing model that allows Sanford Health and Society employees to work in new and collaborative ways.”

The merger will need approval from the Federal Trade Commission, which may take months, Krabbenhoft said. But during the Facebook Live event both CEOs stressed the positives, which they said reflected a shared value system of the South Dakota-headquartered healthcare systems.

“This is a kinship that has found itself and found each other after a long journey that started very similarly in our heritage,” Krabbenhoft said. “There’s also a kinship that’s personal. That’s the professional and historical side. Dave and I go back. We go back to a common education experience at Concordia College.”

If the merger is approved, Horazdovsky would become president of the new Good Samaritan under Sanford, while Krabbenhoft would be retained as president and CEO.