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University dean heightens opposition to Sanford, Fairview merger

Unionized healthcare workers and the Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota are continuing to push back against a proposed merger between Fairview Health Services, also based in Minneapolis, and Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health. 

The two health systems announced their intent to merge in November, quickly drawing concern from community members. Fairview owns the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which is funded by state taxpayers, and if the health systems merge to create a system with more than 50 hospitals, their dollars may be used to expand across state lines. 

Sanford has said it is prepared to fund the university hospital, at least until the affiliation agreement ends in 2026. But the university, state government and taxpayers — and unionized healthcare workers, who fear for their job security if a merger occurred — are still skeptical. 

Several major unions rallied against the merger on Jan. 10, according to the Minnesota Reformer. The same evening, Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, the dean of the university's medical school, said at a public package session that he does not support the merger with university involvement. 

"Sanford and Fairview developed their proposed business merger without involving the university," Dr. Tolar said in his speech, the Star Tribune reported. "We are not a party to the planning of this merger and so we can not provide assurance to you and the public that the public purpose will be fulfilled." 

Bill Gassen, the CEO of Sanford Health, said the university could repurchase the hospital from the combined system if it opposes the merger. 

"Ultimately, it is the University of Minnesota's decision to make," Mr. Gassen said at the meeting. 

In a statement to the Tribune, the university said its original sale agreement does not give it the right to buy back a hospital in the event of a merger or change of control at Fairview. Thus, there are no contract terms requiring an establishment of fair market value. 

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