COMMENTARY: Sanford-Fairview merger will put corporate health care before patients and community

We have seen how mergers like this lead to more nurses leaving the bedside, causing a lower quality of care for your family and friends in the hospital and higher prices for patients.


I have worked for Sanford Bemidji for almost 10 years, six years as a nursing assistant and the last four as a medical/surgical registered nurse. For most nurses, me included, this is not a job, it is a vocation, a true calling.

I love my patients, their families and our community. I love coming in and seeing patients improve and go home. I also consider it an honor and a privilege to hold someone’s hand and ensure they have a comfortable and dignified final transition out of this life.

For years, I have watched corporate health care policies hurt patients and workers at the bedside. Executives take advantage of the passion nurses and other healthcare workers bring to the job.

During the thick of the pandemic, I was working 12- to 16-hour shifts; some days not getting more than one break to use the restroom and chug a bottle of water — if that. I would then stay after shift, off the clock, to hold the hand of my dying patient so they didn’t have to die alone.

When frontline workers asked for better staffing levels and hazard pay, we were told by hospital executives that Sanford was financially struggling and could not afford our requests. At the same time, Sanford CEO Bill Gassen was paid more than $1.6 million dollars.


Instead of investing in the nurses in our local community, Sanford chose to bring in travel staff at anywhere from two to five times the rate they pay their local staff. We continue to rely on travel staff, instead of creating a better work environment that promotes local staff retention.

The merger could target our union and our collective bargaining power, putting more Minnesota nurses under control of South Dakota-based Sanford, where non-union nurses on average make significantly less a year than nurses in Minnesota; even so, Sanford Bemidji nurses are some of the lowest paid nurses in the state.

Through the years Sanford corporate executives continue to create a monopoly and strip their employees of pay and benefits, while upper management makes more and more money.

It’s very frustrating and disheartening to see people that are in favor of the Sanford/Fairview merger promote how great this merger will be. These opinions are mainly coming from recipients of grants and scholarships or have never worked bedside to understand the true impact this will have on employees and patient care.

We have seen how mergers like this lead to more nurses leaving the bedside, causing a lower quality of care for your family and friends in the hospital and higher prices for patients. We don’t need larger corporations owning our health care.

During the meeting in Bemidji with Attorney General Keith Ellison a few weeks back, it was cited that Sanford had hired 30 local graduates as nurses in 2022. I’d like to know how many of those nurses will be here by the end of the year with the current turnover rate. Nurses are leaving the bedside at alarming rates.

We work short-staffed regularly. We are asked to do more with less, and all the while, it leaves our patients in unsafe conditions and situations. To add insult to injury, we cannot talk about it for fear of retaliation, even writing this commentary I wonder what retaliation I might face.

We heard emotional, heartfelt testimony about the care the speakers’ loved ones received at Sanford Bemidji. I’m here to tell you that wonderful care was given by the dedicated, overworked and underpaid nurses, nursing assistants and doctors, not by the Sanford corporate executives who are pushing this merger while making millions.


Statistically mergers such as these result in lower quality care, job loss and increased prices for patients. I am willing to bet before similar mergers, there were people that truly believed the merger in their community would defy those statistics, yet they did not.

When the dean of the University of Minnesota is saying this merger is not fueled with the good of the community in mind and should not move forward at this time; we all should be listening. When so many nurses, nursing assistants and environmental service employees are saying patients and patient care will suffer; you should listen.

Chances are you know a nurse that works at the bedside, if they aren’t too afraid to have an honest conversation with you, ask them how this merger will impact patient care.

Marina Verke, Bemidji, is a registered nurse at the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

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