Newport Beach-based Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and St. Joseph Health on Thursday announced the completion of their affiliation process, which created a new network serving millions of residents throughout Orange County and the High Desert, officials said.

"I don't think it's so much how many people we'll serve," said Dr. Richard Afable, former Hoag president and chief executive , who will take the reins of the new network. "It's how we will change what we do in terms of how care will be delivered."

The two Orange County health-care giants' seven flagship hospitals, thousands of doctors and numerous other facilities are now part of the Covenant Health Network, according to a news release.

The state attorney general's office approved the affiliation Feb. 8 after the organizations announced their intent in August.

Covenant, Afable said in a phone interview, will focus more on improving wellness and preventive health care and building infrastructure to make patient information easily accessible system-wide.

"Patients will see us being much more connected," he said. "Doctors want to provide coordinated care; they just don't have the tools to do that."

Though patient information will be increasingly accessible across the network, Hoag and Orange-based St. Joseph will retain individual identities and religious affiliations — Presbyterian and Roman Catholic, respectively.

Robert Braithwaite, Hoag's chief operating officer, will officially take over as Hoag's new leader Friday a spokesman said, while Deborah Proctor will continue to lead St. Joseph.

Afable and Proctor said in statements that each network will draw on its strengths and combine them to more effectively reach the communities they serve.

Hoag operates two hospitals, in Newport Beach and Irvine, seven health centers and five urgent care centers. It also runs five institutes that specialize in cardiovascular health and cancer, among others.

St. Joseph Health operates Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo and Laguna Beach, St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton. It also runs a number of community clinics and physician organizations in California, Texas and New Mexico.

"This affiliation is a catalyst to extend our mission and make a real difference in health care delivery by assuring a system of highly-connected, quality services," Proctor said in the statement.

She said the network will develop new ways of accessing health care aimed at enhancing "community wellness."

The new network plans to take steps to increase access for underserved communities and extend long-term out-of-hospital care and to create new insurance plans, according to the release.

"The nation's current model of health care delivery is broken, leaving far too many families and individuals — including tens of thousands right here in Orange County — without regular and reliable access to affordable, quality care," Afable said in the statement. "Our No. 1 focus will be solving the systemic health-care access and affordability issues currently facing patients, employers and health care providers — and that effort begins today."

jill.cowan@latimes.com

Twitter: @jillcowan