University of Minnesota to announce “new vision” for future of health system

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As Fairview Health Services pushes forward with a proposed merger with Sanford Health, the University of Minnesota is re-evaluating its own partnership with Fairview.

“Since August of last year we have engaged in productive with the University leadership,” said Bill Gassen, the Sanford CEO, on Tuesday at a public meeting about its potential merger with Fairview. “As this process continues we are eager to identify how a combined Fairview-Sanford system and the University as a separate and independent organization can work together.”

“We have put all options on the table, this includes the option for the University of Minnesota to repurchase the Academic Medical Center from the combined system,” he added.

These goals were also outlined in an internal memo Fairview CEO James Hereford sent to employees on Tuesday, which acknowledged if the University purchased the hospital, “such an outcome would have implications for many teams in our system. It is important to note, these are only options to be discussed. No decisions have been made.”

University President Joan Gabel, Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Myron Frans, and Medical School Dean Dr. Jakub Tolar will share a new vision for the future of the University’s academic health system on Thursday morning.

Fairview and the University entered into an agreement in 1997, which transferred the University of Minnesota Medical Center to Fairview ownership.

The terms of the partnership between Fairview and the University have been updated through the years. The current agreement expires in 2026 and includes an option for a 10 year extension in 2023.

Sources with knowledge of what’s going to be announced told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS it’s expected to include the future of the Medical Center and the possibility the University will maintain it as an autonomous, self-sufficient facility. It’s anticipated the vision will also include the possibility of a new facility near the Masonic Children’s Hospital.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Tolar said, “Our vision also includes development of a new world class hospital.”

University of Minnesota Regent Darrin Rosha said he hasn’t seen specific plans but reacted positively to the possibility of regaining control of the Academic Medical Center.

“I think the opportunity for the University to back in that position would serve the people of Minnesota well,” he said.

Changes to the partnership between Fairview and the University that result in buying UMMC or building a new facility will require approval from the Board of Regents.

“Anything that’s a million dollars or more would require approval of the Board,” said Rosha. “Academic health is 40% of University’s total budget, that’s a huge, huge impact on the operation of the institution and so obviously we’ll want to understand what are the costs, what kind of facilities are we going to be looking at?”

“Clearly, we would have to have partnership with the Legislature in the investment that would have to be made to bring us into this position,” he added.

Rosha expects there will continue to be a relationship between Fairview and the University in some capacity moving forward.

“But I do think this is a welcome opportunity for the University to partner with some really amazing healthcare systems in our state that are among the best in the world,” he said. “I think having the opportunity to have a broader range of relationships can serve the people of Minnesota very, very well.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to each member of the Board of Regents for their reaction to Gassen’s comments Tuesday night.

In an e-mail, Regent Mike Kenyanya said:

“What matters here is outcomes that fulfill our mission and enhance our ability to serve the state as best as we can. This includes providing the best possible care to patients, increasing access, educating the healthcare professionals that take care of you and I, performing life-saving research, and maintaining public control of public assets. To me, the structure, the name, the logo, and who owns what are not focus-worthy on their own, but they do matter insomuch as they affect our ability to deliver on the aforementioned outcomes. I’m personally not married to one structure or the other but rather those outcomes that we owe the state. That’s what the administration is working on and I’m sure they’ll share more details as they are available.”

Regent Mike Kenyanya

A Fairview spokesperson said in a statement:

“We continue to believe a partnership with the University would be beneficial to Minnesotans. We continue to offer all options to the University, including an option to repurchase the academic medical center from the combined system, should they so choose.”

Fairview spokesperson