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Former General Mills CEO: Rushing Sanford, Fairview merger is a 'fool's errand'

Ken Powell — the former CEO of processed-food giant General Mills and chair of the University of Minnesota's board of regents — has called upon Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services to slow down their proposed merger, the Star Tribune reported. 

He shares the opinion with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, who called for a slowdown in January. The controversial merger between Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford and Minneapolis-based Fairview has proven especially contentious with the University of Minnesota, whose flagship hospital was acquired by Fairview in 1997. The affiliation agreement stretches until 2026, which Sanford and Fairview say leaves plenty of time to work out details with the university after the merger is closed. 

State lawmakers, university staff and students, unionized nurses, and now Mr. Powell have openly opposed that rapid pace. 

During a Feb. 10 board meeting in Minneapolis, Mr. Powell said Sanford and Fairview began negotiating their current proposal in May, but did not include the university or share their letter of intent with university representatives until September. 

"By that point, it was a 'fait accompli,'" Mr. Powell said. "Having no role in creating it, and being rebuffed on their call for time to evaluate it, all those three university board members could do is vote 'no.' As you know, Fairview went ahead without us." 

"Given what we know — or, more appropriately, don't know, about the [letter of intent], it would be a fool's errand to approve the merger and rest on the hope that the merged entity will slow down for the university and public interests thereafter," he continued. 

Mr. Powell called on the two entities to publicly support the university's five-point plan, which would allow the university to regain control of the University of Minnesota Medical Center and eventually build a new hospital. 

"Having spent my career constructing complex business combinations, I can tell you that if you rush them, you regret it," Mr. Powell said. "If you try to plow forward without including your key partners, you will fail. Here, if this merger proceeds without recognizing and assuring the centrality of the University to Minnesota's public health, the people who depend on us will be hurt." 

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