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MeritCare CEO: Merger presents opportunity

The talk of change, let alone the reality of it, can make people apprehensive. We have witnessed that firsthand as news leaked of a possible merger between MeritCare and Sanford.

Let us now put this apprehension at rest. This merger would be a positive opportunity for our patients, our system and our communities.

While some predict economic hardships and job losses, we anticipate the opposite. Because MeritCare and Sanford's service areas do not overlap, we expect services to continue as they always have. We anticipate synergy, where MeritCare and Sanford will be able to combine our strengths and talents to develop new opportunities for patients, as well as in research and education. We will still invest in our communities, making a difference in economic development, and in overall health, wellness and education. Patients will still have access to quality care delivered close to home.

We would also work at the national level. As one of the largest health care providers in the both the Midwest and in the country, Sanford MeritCare would have a seat at the policy table, shaping national health care reform. Our integrated models are ones that the federal government supports. Each of our organizations has seen the success of such a model. We are eager to share it with others.

Some may assume that a potential merger is a result of financial challenges. They go so far as to believe that we are a smaller player in this deal. On the contrary, we are very much equals.

Despite the global economic recession and the devastating loss of income due to the flood, our operating results improved this past year. But maintaining profitability will become more difficult as health care reform alters payments. That's why a merger makes sense. Size is needed to bear the financial risk and have improved access to capital. Our combined size would also lead to greater access and to new and expanded specialties.

Both Sanford and MeritCare see this merger as an opportunity. We are nearly equal in size, locations and income. We both are not-for-profit, community-based integrated health care systems. We are both based in similar sized communities and both seen as regional health care leaders. We have too much in common to ignore the potential benefits.

Still some want the process to move more slowly and to be more transparent. We too want transparency. We know that we have many stakeholders who have a vital interest in our longevity.

Now that the letter of intent is signed and the confidentiality agreements have loosened, we are able to be more open. We are eager to talk, to hear your feedback and answer your questions.

We hope those discussions will lessen the apprehension and open people to the genuine opportunity this merger presents. Several key steps still need to be completed including necessary regulatory filings, and the preparation and approval of a final agreement. We anticipate these steps would take place through the summer and possibly conclude in the fall.

Until a final agreement is signed, we remain committed to going about our typical day of improving your health and quality of life through integrated patient care, education and research. At the same time, we will listen to the people in our communities and across our region, people who have supported us for more than 100 years. We rely on you now to see where the next 100 years will take us.

Dr. Roger Gilbertson is MeritCare president/CEO in Fargo, N.D.