The merger will strengthen health care for Minnesotans

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As leaders of two prominent Midwest healthcare organizations, Fairview Health Services and Sanford Health, we know that our role in shaping the future of healthcare for the millions of people we serve is a deep responsibility and a privilege.

Recent years have challenged our nation’s healthcare systems like never before. We must seek new and better ways to care for our patients while delivering on the promise of more affordable, accessible and equitable care. These solutions must meet the needs of our patients today while creating a sustainable path to serve our communities for decades to come.

Last month, Fairview and Sanford announced our intention to combine our complementary strengths and expertise to do more for the patients we care for across Minnesota and beyond. By coming together, we will be able to significantly expand access to all levels of care for more people; leverage innovative technologies to make care more personal and convenient, no matter where our patients live; and strengthen the health of our communities.

Sanford and Fairview both have long histories of service to the people of Minnesota. Fairview offers nationally recognized specialty and community care to Metro and Iron Range patients. Elsewhere in the state, more than 7,200 Sanford employees care for patients at 20 hospitals and 70 clinics across Minnesota, including Bemidji, Thief River Falls, Worthington and Luverne.

There are many ways our combined systems can do more for more people in Minnesota. Last year, Sanford Health announced a historic $350 million expansion of virtual care to advance care delivery and accelerate research, education and innovation. Fairview’s expertise combined with Sanford’s virtual care infrastructure would provide patients with seamless access to cutting-edge medicine and essential primary and preventative care.

Together, we will also be able to tap into greater resources to expand outpatient care and improve clinical outcomes by investing in new models of care. Imagine the continued growth of the EmPATH model, which combines expert mental health care and a relaxed environment, rather than a busy emergency room, so people in crisis can get help quickly. At M Health Fairview Southdale Hospital, the state’s first EmPATH unit reduced hospital admissions for people with mental health symptoms by 60 percent in 2021.

With the industry facing historic workforce challenges, we know that the future health of our communities depends on our ability to attract and develop highly skilled doctors and employees. With our expanded resources, combined research capabilities and strong peer networks, the new system will be a destination for the best clinical talent, attracting the best and brightest to our region.

We will also continue to build on our community reinvestment legacy. We are proud to have invested a total of $1.5 billion in our communities in 2021. Together, as one of Minnesota’s largest employers, we are deeply committed to ensuring they remain vibrant places for our employees to live , work and grow.

We’ve been asked how the merger would impact patients: Would it be more difficult to access care, or will resources flow out of the state somehow? The best answer is Sanford’s track record after other mergers.

Following a 2011 combination with North Country Health Services in Bemidji, Sanford has invested more than $100 million to increase access to specialty care, including expansions to mental health, cardiology, orthopedics and oncology. Since merging with MeritCare in 2009, the system has made more than $1.1 billion in capital investments in the region, bringing a world-class trauma center to Fargo-Moorhead and a state-of-the-art community hospital to Thief River Falls.

We also share a firm belief in the power of academic medicine to create healthier communities through research and innovation. Fairview’s longstanding partnership with the University of Minnesota is responsible for bringing life-changing medical breakthroughs to countless patients in the communities we serve. Our sincere hope is that the university will continue to cooperate with the combined system. Together, we can expand the reach of the university’s research and academic mission to more people across our state and become a regional magnet for health care excellence in the Midwest and beyond.

Ultimately, however, the university is an independent entity and must decide for itself which assistance delivery partnerships it needs to support its research and teaching missions.

These are just a few of the many important conversations we have had with our Fairview and Sanford teams since we announced our intention to merge. There’s a lot about our organizations and people that unites us, including our strong work ethic, common purpose, and Midwestern sensibility. Our shared mission to provide the best patient care possible doesn’t stop at a city line or state line.

Fundamental changes in healthcare require us to think differently about what we do today to meet the needs of our communities tomorrow. Our future together is exciting, but we recognize that change is not easy. We will continue to engage with our stakeholders, listen and answer questions, and offer our vision for a shared future that invests in the needs of all Minnesotans.

Bill Gassen is president and CEO of Sanford Health. James Hereford is president and CEO of Fairview Health Services.

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