Sanford-MeritCare conduct business merger

Ellen Nelson

Ellen Nelson

South Dakota-based hospital system, Sanford Health, has merged with North Dakota-based MeritCare hospitals, becoming one of the country’s largest integrated health care systems. The change included the facility’s new name, Sanford Health-MeritCare, effective Nov. 2.

“I think it’s a wonderful move,” said SDSU College of Nursing Dean Roberta K. Olson.

In addition to patients, Mark Johnston, vice president of Sanford Health said this merger would impact Brookings residents and SDSU students alike.

The new health care provider will seek to increase growth through research and extension of outreach facilities, recruiting more physicians and bringing more specialty services into the area.

“This merger provides more opportunities for SDSU students,” said Johnston, adding that it would increase job security for nursing students by providing more work opportunities in the field, as well as a chance to stay close to home upon graduation. The Sanford Clinic in Brookings will continue to bring more and more physicians and experts into the facility, specifically in Family Practice and OB/GYN where demand has increased.

As a result of this merger, Sioux Falls is building a new Sanford Heart Hospital, a new hospital in Aberdeen and a new long-term facility in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

Chairwoman Ellen Earl-Chaffee, of the MeritCare Board of Trustees, said the decision to combine both organizations is part of MeritCare and Sanford’s commitment to find new ways of improving health care access for people in the region. The new organization has a shared mission to grow and improve services, to expand research and to extend educational capabilities, Earl-Chaffee said in a press release.

People who suffer rare diseases in rural areas would benefit the most from the new organization, Olson said. With the convergence of these two hospitals, specialists will be able to further advance treatment of rare diseases by sharing knowledge and conducting joint research, she said.

Health care professionals will also benefit from this merger. Instead of decreasing job opportunities, Olson believes it will only increase the demand of employment within health care facilities.

“The collaboration will not decrease the number of nurses needed at various hospitals. In fact there could be more jobs available due to the increased services,” said Olson.

Sophomore pre-nursing student and SDSU athlete, Pete Sandager of Scandia, Minn., hopes that this merger increases location possibilities for his anticipated clinical assignments.

“As a swimmer and a student, I hope this opens up options of where I can do clinicals (close to SDSU) rather than driving to Sioux Falls and still getting in on time to swim,” said Sandager.

In addition to more options, Sandager would also like to see an increase of reimbursements of student loans that hospitals could attribute because of this conjunction. Since he wants to pursue a career in surgical nursing, this conjunction will open up many doors of employment for him and other healthcare-related majors as well.

Brookings Health System will not be affected by the convergence since it is city-owned. Olson said that this merger would not affect SDSU nursing students when it comes to clinicals. SDSU’s relationship with Sanford Health in Sioux Falls will still be maintained and the site will remain the priority location to fulfill clinical requirements.

According to the Health Care Advisory Board, this new organization is the largest not-for-profit rural healthcare provider in the nation based on gross revenue, patient beds and number of full-time employees outside of major metropolitan areas.

In its press release, Sanford Health-MeritCare declared that its top priority was offering the best patient experience, as well as developing new services in Centers of Excellence in various medical areas. Other priorities include stability and opportunities for healthcare staff, involvement and support for communities by various investments in projects involving health and wellness, children’s services, education and economic development.

Sanford Health-MeritCare has an annual net revenue of $2 billion, serving South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma. It has more than 17,400 employees, more than 800 physicians, 70 specialty areas in medicine and 29 hospitals serving more than 2 million people. Headquarters offices of Sanford Health-MeritCare are located in Fargo and Sioux Falls.