Walz orders task force on future of U of M health system, picks ex-MDH commissioner to lead it

Gov. Tim Walz has ordered the creation of a new task force regarding the future of the University of Minnesota’s health care system.

In an executive order Thursday, the governor tasked the group with identifying ways to better support the university’s health system to ensure it serves Minnesotans in the best way.

Part of the order includes looking at what other states have done, examining possible options for state governance or oversight of the program, and considering any other financial support or partnership models to support the system’s and state’s needs.

“The University of Minnesota’s Health Sciences Programs provide critical education, training, and research to support the next generation of health care professionals and provide high-quality care for Minnesotans,” Walz said in issuing the order. “I am calling together this group of leaders and health care experts to work to ensure that the future of Minnesota’s academic health remains strong.”

In announcing the move, Walz also chose former Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm to chair the task force, which will also include a state representative and senator, a representative from the state health and higher education departments, and up to 10 others appointed by the governor — particularly health experts and two representatives from the U of M.

The task force’s recommendations to Walz are due by Jan. 15.

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Interestingly, that’s after a decision will have to be made on the future of the partnership between the U of M and Fairview. The two first entered into their agreement in 1997, and the current deal expires in 2026. However, a decision has to be made this year on an option that would extend the partnership by 10 years.

It also comes on the heels of Sanford calling off a proposed merger with Fairview, which the companies had been publicly working toward since last year.

Leaders from the U of M quickly issued statements in support of Walz’s task force, with Interim President Jeff Ettinger saying:

“We are grateful to Governor Walz, House and Senate leaders, community partners, and all who understand and advocate for the value of academic medicine. We know academic medicine delivers advances in primary care, treatments and cures, as well as training the health professionals who see and treat Minnesotans every day and provide the highest quality of care. Academic medicine will play a critical role in ensuring a healthy future for our state, but achieving our shared vision for a healthy, vibrant Minnesota is only possible when we collaborate across sectors, disciplines, and industries with an unwavering focus on the wellbeing of all Minnesotans. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance plans that prioritize the health of all Minnesotans, now and into the future.”

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm speaks at a press conference on Dec. 14, 2021. (FILE/KSTP)