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Sanford Health & MeritCare Merger should keep health care close to patients' homes

Mike Begeman, vice president for public affairs for Sanford, a health care company that has merged with MeritCare, describes the advantages the complementary services bring to the merger into Sanford Health & MeritCare. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

Sanford Health and MeritCare officials initiated a merger about one year ago, but patients at both centers haven't experienced any changes in daily care.

That was the message Mike Begeman, Sanford vice president of public affairs based in Sioux Falls, S.D., gave to noon Bemidji Rotary members Monday. Begeman; Becky Nelson, Sanford, chief operating officer; and Dr. Bruce Pitts, MeritCare president, were in Bemidji to discuss merger details with local MeritCare officials.

"We both have strengths that are complementary," Pitts said.

He said Sanford has concentrated on hospitals in small communities, such as the South Dakota Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls while MeritCare has focused more on clinics in small communities, he said.

"Our doctors north and south are getting together in a number of specialties," Pitt said.

"This all about additions - it's not about subtractions," Begeman said..

He cited statistics showing a primary service area of 130,000 square miles serving 620,000 people in Minnesota, North Dakota South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. The merger includes 30 hospitals with more than 1,600 beds, 174 clinics and 800 physicians with 70 specialty areas.

"Health care is best developed close to home," Begeman said, and, he said, that is the Sanford-MeritCare aim.

The direct benefits to Bemidji of the merged entity are financial stability, increased buying power and access to resources, partnerships in economic development and job security, Begeman said.

"The talent you have in a town this size is phenomenal," Nelson said.

The merger representatives also emphasized the need for the Bemidji clinic to work with North Country Health Services. Pitt also responded to a Rotary member's question about community input in the clinic operations. Pitt said some clinics have community advisory councils, a concept that could be considered locally.