Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison has asked Sanford and Fairview to slow down their proposed mega-merger, saying a planned closing of the transaction on March 31 comes too soon to answer questions about the transaction.
Assistant Attorney General John Keller announced the motion Wednesday night during a public meeting in Worthington.
Keller cited the University of Minnesota’s concern that Sanford and Fairview had not adequately considered the impact of their combination on the US academic medical center.
Fairview owns the University of Minnesota Medical Center in Minneapolis, the university’s primary teaching hospital. The healthcare system and doctors of the U jointly offer hospital and clinic services through the M Health Fairview brand.
“Getting it right is more important than doing it quickly, and that’s why the parties’ existing timeline affects the attorney general’s office,” Keller said. “As a result, we have formally asked the parties to postpone the March 31 closing date and we await their formal response.”
Keller said the Minnesota Legislature is beginning to prepare for merger hearings. He noted that meetings like Wednesday’s session in Worthington – the third in a series of four such events this month – provide valuable public input.
Ellison wants to make sure the U “has a fair say,” Keller said. There are also questions, he said, about how the merger could affect employees, health insurance premiums in Minnesota and “civil and human rights in healthcare.”
Bill Gassen, the chief executive officer of Sanford Health, did not directly respond to the attorney general’s request for a delay during his comments at the Worthington meeting. However, Gassen said any delay in completing the transaction would delay the benefits of the merger.
U’s academic mission will not be impacted by the merger, Gassen said. He added that with a Fairview merger, Sanford committed to fulfilling Fairview’s obligations to the U through an existing follow-up agreement that runs through the end of 2026.
“This leaves more than enough time for the combined system to work with the university on the terms of a buyback of the medical center sold to Fairview in 1997 and to determine what a future clinical relationship might look like,” Gassen said.
“University leaders have said publicly that this merger cannot move forward without the university,” he added. “With all due respect, yes it can.”
Earlier this month, the U announced a plan to buy back its teaching hospital and then build a new medical center on its campus.
dr Bevan Yueh, executive director of the University of Minnesota Physicians, reiterated in Worthington the U that fusion is happening too quickly.
For weeks, the U has criticized the merger proposal, which focuses on narrow business interests in healthcare systems rather than the broader public question of what a combination of teaching, research and patient care at the U would mean.
On Wednesday, Yueh said that “pushing for quick approval of the merger serves to crowd out the public interest.”
He suggested the university might be willing to work with the new healthcare system that Sanford would direct from its headquarters in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. But Yueh said addressing the public interest cannot wait until the deal is finalized.
“We call on Sanford and Fairview to slow down and commit to creating an academic healthcare system that will serve Minnesotans over time beyond 2026,” he said. “Our vision for Fairview and Sanford to slow down and seize this opportunity to design a world-class academic healthcare system with us is not a call to dismiss the notion that Sanford will be able to partner with Fairview. It’s a call to take the time to do it right.”
Ellison’s office is reviewing the merger to assess its impact on competition in the healthcare sector and the transaction’s compliance with state charitable assets laws. While the review is ongoing and the attorney general has not yet decided whether there will be grounds for legal action, Keller said the office is “awaiting material information from the parties that will help us analyze the situation.”