Walz’s task force on future of U of M health system set for first meeting Thursday

Walz’s task force on future of U of M health system set for first meeting Thursday

Walz’s task force on future of U of M health system set for first meeting Thursday

A task force created to find ways to better support the University of Minnesota’s academic health education, research and care met for the first time Thursday.

Gov. Tim Walz created the task force through an executive order back in August and chose former Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm as its chairperson.

The governor appointed the task force in the aftermath of controversy over a proposed merger between Fairview Health Services and Sanford Health. Fairview has a partnership with the University of Minnesota.

“When the Fairview-University challenge started to unfold, I was frustrated, perhaps like some of you were about some of that,” said former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a special advisor to the task force. “This moment will be the first time in 30 or 40 years where the challenges and importance and opportunities surrounding academic medicine have been given proper attention in a public forum.”

University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Jakub Tolar agrees this is a critical time. 

“Everybody who has ever seen a doctor or every doctor who has ever seen a patient knows that the system is broken,” Tolar told the task force, saying the U of M needs public support to improve medical care and train new health care professionals. “If I want to get the best faculty and the best students, we better rank pretty high nationally.”

Part of improving the national ranking could include a new hospital on campus.

“It is key because the hospital … where I operate, you know, where we go today and take care of our patients, is [from the] mid-’80s,” Tolar said. “You know, it’s certainly at the end of its useful life.”

Malcolm, the chair of the task force, says whether to build a new hospital won’t be a key focus of the group. 

“I don’t think the task force is going to spend a lot of time on the idea of a new hospital other than understanding and hearing from the university about why that is part of their plan,” she told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

Also on the task force are Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington; Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester; representatives from the state health and higher education departments; U of M Regent Penny Wheeler; several medical experts; and former Gov. Mark Dayton as a special advisor.

Walz had planned to address the task force Thursday afternoon but had to cancel at the last minute.

The task force currently has seven meetings after Thursday scheduled and is due to send its recommendations to Walz by Jan. 15.

Walz’s order creating the task force came two weeks after Fairview Health Services and Sanford Health announced they were backing out of their planned merger.