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Published May 01 2012

Forum editorial: Sanford prepares for future

Sanford Health’s move to extend its reach into central and western North Dakota makes sense in a national health care picture that is far from clear. It’s also an opportunity for Sanford to fill a need in North Dakota’s booming Oil Patch, where health care services are being stretched to the breaking point.

The announcement this week that Sanford and Bismarck’s Medcenter One are in active merger talks confirmed what both organizations had admitted months ago. The pattern of informal discussions, formal talks, approval by boards of directors and eventual signing of a binding merger agreement follows the same script Sanford and Fargo’s MeritCare used during their merger, which was finalized in 2009.

Sanford has headquarters in Fargo and Sioux Falls, S.D.

In terms of geography, Sanford is emerging as the largest health care provider in the nation. The hospitals and regional network serve patients from Bemidji and Worthington in Minnesota to Bismarck and Pierre, S.D. The service area includes portions of five states: South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. The merger with Medcenter One will expand the footprint west to Dickinson and Minot, well into North Dakota’s Oil Patch communities.

But the larger driver of the merger – and similar mergers/collaborations/partner-ships all over the nation – is uncertainty in the national health care outlook. The fate of the federal health care reform law rests with the U.S. Supreme Court and a Congress that wants to repeal the law. If it is scrapped, what will replace it, if anything? Medicare’s systemic problems are of great concern as the U.S. population ages. Will it become a two-tiered entitlement in which the system is changed for younger Americans?

Sanford and other providers are responding to a health care landscape that requires economies of scale and flexibility in order to deliver the high level of service that patients demand. Sanford’s management seems to be anticipating changes and responding accordingly. That’s good news for consumers of health care.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.