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Charting the medical future: Sanford trustees, top execs in Bemidji for annual meetings

Kelby Krabbenhoft

BEMIDJI -- The next “innovative frontier” for health is right at Bemidji’s doorstep, the CEO of Sanford Health said Monday.

“Everyone in Bemidji and this whole surrounding region is going to get the chance to have a simple blood draw and then they’re going to be part of what we call imagenetics,” said Kelby Krabbenhoft, CEO and president of Sanford Health, while in Bemidji for a board of trustees meeting. “We’ve married the mother of medicine -- internal medicine -- to the whole genetic frontier.”

Prescription medication does not work the same on everyone. The blood draw would result in analysis of that patient’s genetic makeup to determine which medicine would best work for that patient.

“As pharmaceuticals advance and as medicine advances, we can go back and look at your profile and see which drug would have been the right one,” Krabbenhoft said.

Imagenetics is being rolled out this year following a $125 million gift announced earlier this year by T. Denny Sanford, the philanthropist whose $400 million donation to Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System was the largest-ever to a health-care organization and led to its name change to Sanford Health. He gave another $100 million in 2011 to Sanford Health to establish the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation and announced the newest donation in January, to begin offering patients genetic testing and genetic counseling.

Krabbenhoft said the goal is to get a million patients enrolled throughout all of Sanford Health.

“That’s really exciting. That is really the innovative frontier of medicine, that we can marry how we care for people for exactly how their body will accept it,” he said. “We’re the only ones that are doing it to the degree to which we are trying to get it done across the country.”

Planning session

Krabbenhoft’s comments came as the Sanford Health Board of Trustees gathered in Bemidji for a strategic-planning session, one of four quarterly board meetings held throughout the year. This week’s visit -- the board is in town through today -- is when the board presents its budget and sets its course for the next five years.

“That’s the strategic part of the meeting,” Krabbenhoft said. “This is the heaviest meeting that we have every year.”

The 15-member board of trustees is composed of officials throughout the Midwest, including Tom Hruby of Bemidji, one of three Minnesotans on the board. The chairwoman is Barbara Everist of Sioux Falls, S.D., a former state senator, who succeeded former chairman Lauris Molbert of Fargo, N.D.

“They decided last year that we would have our annual planning and budget meeting inside the Sanford system,” Krabbenhoft said. “Last year, we went to Fargo, this year we’re in Bemidji, and next year we’re planning to go to Bismark.”

Krabbenhoft was joined by Dan Olson, president of Sanford Bemidji, as they together reflected on the progress made since Sanford Health came to the Bemidji area, first in 2009 through the merger with MeritCare and then in 2011 through the merger with North Country Health Services.

At that time, when the hospital and clinic came under the same umbrella, Sanford Health pledged to invest $75 million locally throughout the next decade. Plans were announced to expand care in the areas of cancer, heart, orthopedics and sports medicine, women’s health, and research and education.

Much of that has happened, starting in October 2011 when Dr. Jeff Watkins and his staff performed the hospital’s first cardiac catheterizations, which laid the foundation for what would become the hospital’s cardiology center, which provides 24/7 cardiac care.

Then there is the new $9 million, 46,000-square-foot addition that resulted in the Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Center, which brought together rehabilitation and Peak Performance under one roof, centrally locating orthopedics and sports medicine personnel and equipment.

Most recently, the hospital last week celebrated the achievements of its cancer center, which earned an accreditation with commendation from the Commission on Cancer and an accreditation as a breast cancer center.

“Oncology’s our next big thing,” Olson said. “We have a great medical oncology program, we have a great radiation oncology program but we need to bring them together. We’re doing a good job of that programmatically but next is going to be physically brought together.”

Krabbenhoft said Sanford Health has become known perhaps for its large building projects, but they do more than just increase the footprint of a facility.

“The other part of what comes with those buildings is talent, mostly clinical talent, physicians and highly trained, high-end nursing,” Krabbenhoft said. “That’s what we’re witnessing a lot of in Bemidji. Some of it doesn’t get seen with a construction crane but the talent shows up, and that’s really what the people needs the most.”