​Sanford Health again pursues U of M Medical Center

Courtesy of Wikipedia U of M Medical Center

Will providing equal care remain a priority?

As we as underrepresented consumers of disparate medical care worry about how we are going to afford and even gain access to the appropriate medical care for us, big corporations are playing “Monopoly” with the institutions where we can actually receive care. The question is what quality of care?

The backstory is that Sanford Medical is again seeking to sign a merger with Fairview Medical, which is the owner of the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinics. The details for the merger are as follows:

Sanford Health is named for St. Paul native and University of Minnesota graduate T. Denny Sanford, a philanthropist who made his fortune in the subprime, high-interest credit card business. The Sioux Valley Hospital and Health System was renamed Sanford Health in 2007 after Sanford donated $400 million to the Sioux Falls-based care system.

Minneapolis-based Fairview has 11 hospitals, including the University of Minnesota Medical Center, and about 31,000 employees. Fairview has been struggling financially for several years. 

It reported an operating loss in 2021 of $132.6 million on top of a $209 million loss in 2020. In financial statements, the system has pointed to the COVID-19 crisis as contributing to its financial woes, driving up operating costs while driving down the number of nonelective procedures.

Ownership and control of the U’s medical center—the state’s top teaching hospital—was an issue closely examined by Minnesota lawmakers in 2013. The center would no longer be Minnesota owned.

Without the altruistic, mission-driven goals that the University system of medical training and care, I worry about the future of not only that aspect but the already disparate care that exists. Will that be a concern for the new corporation controlled by profit-driven leadership?

In 2013 a similar proposal was put forth. Lawmakers’ actions then revealed signs of serious consternation over talks between Sanford and Fairview. The potential deal to create a medical behemoth could harm not only Minnesota’s control of its own health systems, but also the university’s teaching hospitals and mission.

Talks broke down amid an onslaught of public criticism. Some state lawmakers pursued legislation that blocked Sanford from controlling the University of Minnesota hospitals. Then-attorney general Lori Swanson raised concerns about a merger because of the role that tax breaks and donations from Minnesota and Minnesotans played in Fairview’s development.

Gov. Mark Dayton and the University Board of Regents then intervened, noting “these are decisions that…would have a huge public impact.” Subsequently,  as a result, in 2013 Sanford Health withdrew from merger discussions with Fairview.

Current Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said last week his office is investigating the proposed transaction.

I hope that we as a community will support what is best for our families, friends and neighbors. Knowing the facts and making our voices heard is critical to that process.

Just like in 2013 when our legislative representatives heard us speak out and acted on our behalf to stop the merger, it is critical for us to do the same now. 

I want you as a health consumer, a patient or future patient to know that this decision could affect your health care in the future. We have been fighting for equitable access and equitable delivery of care. Let us continue on a path forward that will benefit all of us, and not just the big corporations who seek profits in a shell-game that potentially endangers our lives.

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes in craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.

2 Comments on “​Sanford Health again pursues U of M Medical Center”

  1. Why do you say Sanford has “profit-driven leadership” when it’s a nonprofit organization? Has Sanford done anything specific that would indicate Fairview patients would receive worse care? Are the negatives really enough to make up for Fairview’s hemorrhaging of money, as you point out, which could lead to eventual closure of the system?

    1. As a person who worked for Sanford for many years and was there when Meritcare in Fargo, ND “merged” with Sanford, I can tell you from experience that all they care about are profits. I have been working in the twin cities for one of the healthcare organizations here and I can tell you that healthcare is a breath of fresh air compared to what I had to deal with there. Many of us used to say, we feel like we are trying to deliver good care despite the organization’s goals. Their executives get fat compensation packages and patient care suffers. That is their MO. It makes me ill to think we will have to deal with them here.

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