Midwest nonprofits Sanford Health, Fairview Health Services target a 58-hospital merger for 2023

South Dakota-based Sanford Health and Minnesota-based Fairview Health Services unveiled plans Tuesday to merge and form a 58-hospital juggernaut serving rural and urban patients across the Midwest.

The nonprofits have signed a nonbinding letter of intent as they proceed with due diligence and regulatory antitrust reviews, they said in a press release. Each would maintain their own regional presence, leadership and regional boards but operate as a single integrated system under Sanford Health’s banner.

The organizations said they anticipate closing their deal sometime next year.

“Our organizations are united by a shared commitment to advance the health and well-being of our communities,” Sanford Health President and CEO Bill Gassen said in the release. “As a combined system, we can do more to expand access to complex and highly specialized care, utilize innovative technology and provide a broader range of virtual services, unlock greater research capabilities and transform the care delivery experience to ensure every patient receives the best care no matter where they live.”

Gassen is teed up to serve as the president and CEO of the new entity should the merger go through, while Fairview CEO James Hereford would serve as co-CEO for one year following the deal’s close.

Headquarted in Sioux Falls, Sanford Health describes itself as the country’s largest rural health system with nearly 48,000 employees, 47 medical centers, 224 clinics and hundreds of other facilities. It serves over 1 million patients and 220,000 health plan members, according to its website, and each year logs 5.2 million outpatient or clinic visits, nearly 83,000 admissions, about 128,000 surgeries and procedures and roughly 195,000 emergency department visits.

Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services employs 31,000 people across 11 hospitals as well as dozens of clinics, pharmacies and other facilities. It boasts a network of over 5,000 doctors after merging a few years back with fellow Twin Cities system HealthEast and due to partnerships with University of Minnesota Health specialists.

The two systems said their planned merger will improve care quality, outcomes, patient experience and health equity across their patient populations. New efficiencies will also help the systems offer more affordable care, they noted, while their workforces will benefit from stronger recruitment and advancement opportunities.

“With Sanford Health, Fairview Health Services has found a partner that shares our Midwestern values and our commitment to affordable, accessible and equitable care delivery,” Hereford said in the release. “Our complementary capabilities mean that together, we are uniquely positioned to improve clinical outcomes, develop new care delivery models, expand opportunities for employees and clinicians across our broader operational footprint, and apply our combined resources to positively impact the well-being of our patients and communities today and for decades to come.”

This isn't the first merger rodeo for the two systems. A previous attempt was torpedoed by Minnesota's attorney general almost a decade back due to concerns involving the University of Minnesota's teaching hospital.

Sanford and Fairview’s second push lands about six months after Advocate Aurora Health and Atrium Health announced their own nonprofit megamerger. That deal continues to move through the necessary regulatory hurdles and, if closed, would yield a 67-hospital with strong presences in the nearby Chicago and Milwaukee markets.

Additionally, 2022 has seen the close of Intermountain Healthcare and SCL Health’s 33-hospital system in the Rocky Mountain region and Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health’s 22-hospital system in Michigan.