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Sanford doctors meet in the Sanford Center

It was not by chance that Bemidji was chosen to host the Sanford Health primary care retreat this week.

Bemidji was told following the merger of Sanford Health with MeritCare that this community would be a third "hub" within Sanford, equal to those already in Sioux Falls and Fargo.

The retreat is further evidence that the health care system is fulfilling that pledge, administrators said.

"We are committed to Bemidji," said Dr. Bruce Pitts, the president of Sanford North in Fargo.

"We want to expose Bemidji to others in the (Sanford) organization," said Dan Blue, the president of Sanford South in Sioux Falls.

Sioux Falls-based physicians have not seen Bemidji's sites, and neither have many Fargo doctors.

"They need to feel a stake in this place," Blue said.

Dr. Howard Hoody, senior vice president for Sanford Bemidji and Thief River Falls, added that another reason the retreat was intentionally planned for Bemidji is that the community offers a perspective on rural health care needs.

"We try to have (medical staff) move throughout the system so they can understand what Sanford is all about," Pitts said.

The retreat was held in the conference room at the Sanford Center, Bemidji's multi-use events center. Sanford Health purchased the naming rights for the facility for $2 million - $200,000 a year for 10 years - in 2010.

"It's beautiful," said Blue, who, like Pitts, was in the building for the first time. "The exterior, the interior. It's beautiful."