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Sanford-Fairview asked to delay merger by Minnesota attorney general

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has asked Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health and Minneapolis-based Fairview Health System to slow down their proposed merger, the Star Tribune reported Jan. 25. 

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 health systems aimed to close the transaction March 31, but the attorney general believes too many questions still need answers before that deadline. Deputy Attorney General John Keller delivered the message at a public meeting on Jan. 25. 

"It's more important to do this right than to do it fast, and that's why the parties' existing timeline concerns the attorney general's office," Mr. Keller said. "As a result, we formally asked the parties to delay the March 31 closing date, and we await their formal response." 

Minnesota legislature has yet to hold hearings on the merger, and public forums are still providing valuable feedback from the community, Mr. Keller said. 

At the same meeting, Bill Gassen, CEO of Sanford Health, did not respond directly to Mr. Keller's request for a slowdown, although he did say it would delay the merger's benefits.

On the evening of Jan. 25, Sanford and Fairview officials told the Tribune that March 31 is a target date and they are working to give the attorney general "information needed to evaluate this merger." 

Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota has also asked the two entities to slow down. 

Fairview acquired the university's flagship hospital, also based in Minneapolis, in 1997. But the university is concerned that the proposed merger would interfere with its mission of providing academic healthcare in Minnesota. Fairview and Sanford have disagreed with the university on what their options are moving forward. 

"University leaders have said publicly that this merger cannot move forward without the university," Mr. Gassen said at the meeting. "With all due respect, yes it can." 

Mr. Gassen said the university's mission will not be affected by the merger — and its affiliation agreement with Fairview runs through 2026, which is "more than enough time for the combined system to work with the university on the terms of a repurchase of the medical center it sold to Fairview in 1997, and determine what a future clinical relationship could look like." 

However, the university said the merger focuses on business interests between the two health systems, ignoring potential impacts on teaching, research and patient care at its medical center. 

Bevan Yueh, MD, CEO of University of Minnesota physicians, said "pushing a quick approval of the merger is to squeeze out public interest." 

"Our vision for Fairview and Sanford to slow down and seize this opportunity to design a world-class academic health system with us is not a call to reject the notion that Sanford be able to combine with Fairview," Dr. Yueh said at the meeting. "It is a call to take the time to do it right." 

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