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Minnesota attorney general to hold public hearings on Sanford-Fairview merger

Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is investigating the proposed merger of the multibillion-dollar health systems based in South Dakota and Minnesota, said he wants to get a full picture of how it might affect Minnesota residents.

Sanford Medical Center is seen Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Sanford Medical Center is seen Nov. 28, 2017, in Fargo.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is seeking public input on a proposed merger between Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services as his office investigates whether the deal would comply with state charity and nonprofit laws.

The attorney general’s office on Tuesday, Nov. 22, announced plans to hold three or four public hearings on the issue to learn more about the mergers’ potential impact on Minnesota residents. One of the hearings will be at the state Capitol, Ellison said, though the others will be in Greater Minnesota cities, possibly including Bemidji.

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Attorney General Keith Ellison
Contributed / Lisa Miller

“The main idea is this merger is going to impact our state and we need to have a full-throated and inclusive conversation about it,” Ellison said at a Tuesday news conference, later telling reporters: “Before we come about a conclusion about whether this is in the public interest, we want to know a lot more.”

Ellison said his office is also taking phone calls and accepting online input through a form on the attorney general’s website, ag.state.mn.us/sanford-fairview/form.asp .

Sanford and Fairview last week announced they had signed a nonbinding letter of intent to explore a merger and complete a deal by the end of 2023. The new company would operate under the Sanford name and Sanford's CEO. Sanford’s operating revenue is about $7.1 billion, and Fairview's is about $6.4 billion. According to year-end estimates from the health systems in 2021, they would bring in more than $13 billion and would become a top-10 nonprofit health system nationally if the merger went through.

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Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford has a largely rural footprint and has about 45,000 employees at 47 medical centers across the Dakotas and Minnesota. Minneapolis-based Fairview has around 31,000 employees and 11 hospitals centered in the Twin Cities area.

M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center East Bank Hospital.jpg
M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center, East Bank Hospital in Minneapolis.
Contributed / Fairview Health Services

The health care systems explored a merger in 2013 and faced criticism from Minnesota officials including then-attorney general Lori Swanson, who also launched an investigation into the potential deal. Swanson said she was concerned tax breaks and donations from Minnesota and Minnesota residents helped build Fairview as it includes the M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center. Sanford withdrew from the 2013 merger weeks after disclosing it amid criticism and the introduction of a bill in the Minnesota Legislature to slow or halt the merger.

Ellison is investigating the renewed merger attempt, and his office has expressed concerns similar to Swanson’s in 2013. The charity division of his office is already investigating the merger and if the Federal Trade Commission becomes involved the antitrust division of the attorney general’s office will work closely with federal officials, Ellison said. The attorney general is also working with the State Department of Health to determine if the merger complies with state laws and rules relating to health care services.

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In a joint statement, Sanford and Fairview called the input “an important part of the review process” and said they would continue cooperation with all regulatory agencies involved in the proposed merger.

“We are committed to keeping our patients, our communities and our employees informed as we continue through this process,” the health systems said.

While the attorney general’s office said its input sessions will largely take place in Greater Minnesota, it has not yet decided on all the locations. Sanford has medical centers in Bagley, Bemidji, Canby, Jackson, Luverne, Thief River Falls, Tracy, Westbrook, Wheaton and Worthington.

Minnesota residents who want to contribute input can reach the attorney general’s office by calling 800-657-3787 if in Greater Minnesota or 651-296-3353 if in the Metro area. When connected, press option 2 or speak to an analyst live by calling the same numbers and pressing option 1.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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