AG Ellison, state lawmakers planning to review Fairview/Sanford merger

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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison provided an update Tuesday on his office’s investigation of a proposed merger between Fairview Health Services and Sanford Health and asked for public input.

The attorney general said his office is setting up ways for Minnesotans to provide feedback on the proposed merger and will also schedule public forums in multiple cities to further seek input from community members.

“It’s my job to listen, and we are gonna listen,” Ellison told reporters at a news conference in his State Capitol office. “The main idea is that this (proposed) merger is going to impact our state and we’ve got to have a full-throated and inclusive conversation about it.”

Ellison says he will hold a public hearing at the State Capitol and possibly two or three more in greater Minnesota. He also invited Minnesotans to visit his website to find out ways to comment if you can’t make it to a public hearing.

Anyone wishing to submit feedback can do so through this online form, by leaving a voicemail by calling 651-296-3353 or 800-657-3787 and pressing option No. 2 or by talking to an analyst by calling the same numbers and pressing option No. 1.

Members of Ellison’s office say the investigation is looking at state and federal laws regarding the proposal, which was announced earlier this month. The companies say merging would allow them to provide more equitable health care and benefit people from rural to urban and Indigenous communities across the region.

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“I think it makes strategic sense,” Fairview CEO James Hereford told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, saying a bigger organization would allow for greater innovation and efficiencies. “It’s good for our patients. It’s good for Minnesota. It’s good for the Upper Midwest.”

Sanford CEO Bill Gassen says the merger would combine Sanford’s expertise in rural health care with Fairview’s focus on urban health care in bigger population centers.

“We think by bringing the two organizations together we have a better opportunity to serve all of the citizens of the state of Minnesota,” Gassen told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

It’s going to take some convincing for the chair of the Minnesota House Health Finance and Policy Committee to go along. Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, says she’s initially skeptical but will keep an open mind.

“I’m not sure that mergers and having these organizations be bigger and bigger is exactly the direction we want to be going, but we’ll see how this impacts people,” she said.

Liebling says she’ll consider legislative hearings, but not if they’ll simply duplicate what the attorney general is doing.

In 2013 a similar merger proposal was withdrawn after opposition from then-Attorney General Lori Swanson and state lawmakers who didn’t like the idea of an out-of-state health system being in charge of the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

The merger proposal calls for the combined health system of nearly 80,000 employees and more than 50 hospitals to be based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If they can get the necessary approvals, they would like the merger to happen in 2023.