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Patrick Springer, Published February 26 2010

MeritCare merger produces no layoffs

The merger of MeritCare and Sanford Health last fall has produced no layoffs and the health system continues to hire as it realigns the organization.

In fact, MeritCare’s 321 new hires since the November merger have outpaced the 248 hires during the same period in 2008-09, according to figures provided Thursday by the health system.

More than two-thirds of the hires, 70 percent, involved patient care and many were filling existing positions. Sanford hired 271 during the period from Nov. 2 to Feb. 13.

Before the merger, despite assurances from MeritCare and Sanford executives, a citizens group had argued that layoffs inevitably would result. Growth, not cuts, will be the legacy of the merger, administrators said.

“We are on a growth trajectory as an organization,” said Evan Burkett, Sanford-MeritCare’s chief human resource officer. “We will continue to add to the employee base in Fargo and Sioux Falls and potentially other areas of the country.”

Administrators reiterated their pledge that no layoffs are expected – and insisted that the combined health system instead offers growth opportunities.

“I’d say it’s more than a goal,” Burkett said of the commitment to avoid layoffs. “It’s how we do business.”

Because the service areas of MeritCare, based in Fargo, and Sanford, with headquarters in Sioux Falls, S.D., did not overlap, the realignment is limited to support services, such as bookkeeping, human resources and information technology.

Combined, those operations comprise roughly 5 percent of the health system’s 18,000 employees, said Burkett and Carol Berndt, vice president of human relations for the health system’s north region.

The reorganization of the support departments should be completed or almost done by the end of the year, Burkett said.

The merger strategy is not based on cost-cutting, but building upon combined stability and complementary strengths, he said.

In some cases, vacancies allow employees to move up, Burkett said. In finance, for example, a person based in Sioux Falls was able to move to Fargo, where he was originally from.

“Through this redesign we create opportunities,” he said.

Although plans called for naming all of the leadership positions in the new management structure by mid-February, a few posts remain to be filled, MeritCare spokesman Darren Huber said.

A handful of openings are being recruited or yet to be named, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522