‘Purge the merge’: U of M medical students rally against Sanford/Fairview merger

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Medical professionals and students from the University of Minnesota Medical School rallied on Friday in protest of the proposed merger between Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services.

Fairview is based in Minneapolis and has owned U of M’s teaching hospitals since 1997, while Sanford is based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Speakers at the event outside the U of M Health Sciences Education Center were particularly concerned about the impact the merger could have on patient care and the potential for facility closures down the line.

“We have seen time and again that mergers result in closures, reducing patient access to care and putting nurses and other workers at risk for layoffs and lowering wages while the CEO continues to collect salaries, and theirs will continue to climb,” said Lisa Reed, who has been a registered nurse with Fairview for 28 years.

Other voices argued the merger is motivated by corporate greed rather than improving health care services. Students toted signs with slogans such as “Purge the Merge” and “Patients over Profits.”

Critics have expressed concern about the prospect of an out-of-state company controlling the U of M health care system, but CEOs for both Sanford and Fairview have reassured stakeholders that the relationship between Fairview and the university would not change post-merger.

RELATED: CEOs of Fairview, Sanford eager to convince AG Ellison, lawmakers to approve merger

“Sanford Health and [University of South Dakota] Sanford School of Medicine are two separate, independent organizations just like Fairview Health Services and the University of Minnesota Medical School are separate organizations,” Sanford CEO Bill Gassen and Fairview CEO James Hereford said in a joint statement. “As part of the University of South Dakota, the Sanford School of Medicine is a public institution governed by the State of South Dakota. The proposed merger involves Sanford Health, not the USD Sanford School of Medicine. “

Regardless, the U of M is already looking into recapturing control of its health care system once its partnership with Fairview expires in 2026. The plan would involve the university purchasing the University of Minnesota Medical Center and building a new hospital complex on the East Bank campus.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is asking the companies to pump the brakes on the merger, too.

Chief Deputy Attorney General John Keller, speaking on Ellison’s behalf at an open house last month in Worthington, said his office wants more time to review the deal, which is on track to be finalized on March 31.

“The University of Minnesota has indicated that the proposed merger is moving too fast and its interests have not been adequately considered,” Keller said at the Jan. 25 meeting.

At a hearing in the Minnesota Legislature on Monday, lawmakers also raised concerns about the speed of the merger, which was initially announced in September, as well as its potential impact on health care costs.

But Hereford insisted the merger needed to be completed quickly because “health care delivery is in crisis in this country.”

“Our merger with Sanford means we can spread the cost of innovative new technologies across a broader care delivery system. And it gives us the ability to lower our cost structures in areas such as medical technology, pharmaceuticals and information technology,” he testified.

If the merger goes through, it will combine Sanford’s 48,000 employees and 47 facilities with Fairview’s 31,000 employees and 11 facilities.