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Medical students: Sanford-Fairview merger would reduce U of Minnesota's 'academic integrity'

Medical students, state representatives and a nurses union spoke out against a proposed merger between Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health and Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services at a Jan. 30 Minnesota House meeting. 

Sanford and Fairview approved negotiations for a merger — which would create a joint system with 78,000 employees and more than 50 hospitals — in November. The two systems aim to ink the deal March 31, but state representatives and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison have called for a delay.

Many community stakeholders have also voiced concerns at the meeting. 

"The U of M ranks top three in the nation in primary care. A lot of students come here for that academic excellence. Sanford, on the other hand, is unranked," said Allison Leopold, a University of Minnesota medical student, according to CBS News

"Merging our medical school with Sanford would reduce the academic integrity of our university, causing fewer students to come and train here," Ms. Leopold also said, according to a Jan. 30 broadcast from NBC affiliate KARE

The university is also concerned that its medical center would be based in South Dakota, a more conservative state where abortion is illegal, according to CBS News. However, James Hereford, CEO of Fairview Health, said gender-affirming and comprehensive reproductive care would not change as a result of the merger. 

One nurse from the Minnesota Nurses Association said she did not believe a South Dakota health system would know what is best for Minnesota patients. 

"My concern is this: How is some executive in Sioux Falls supposed to know what's best for my patients?" the MNA member said, according to KARE. "Do they even know who the Karen people are? Do they know what the Hmong community needs?" 

Later this week, a Minnesota House committee will discuss a bill that, if passed, would give the Minnesota Department of Health authority over the joint Sanford-Fairview system, CBS News reported. Mr. Ellison, as attorney general, has the power to block the merger, just as former Attorney General Lori Swanson blocked a similar proposal in 2013. For now, however, Mr. Ellison is calling only for a delay.

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