Sanford Health to team with Bill Gates to bring water, medical care to GhanaSIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Sanford Health plans to team with billionaire Bill Gates to bring fresh water and medical care to the impoverished nation of Ghana in West Africa.
By: Jon Walker, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, INFORUM
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Sanford Health plans to team with billionaire Bill Gates to bring fresh water and medical care to the impoverished nation of Ghana in West Africa.
“In May, we’ll meet with Bill Gates to see if this works. This is his proposal,” said Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO at Sanford.
Krabbenhoft said the arrangement with Gates would establish perhaps 200 stations in Ghana for local residents to receive two things they lack – a safe water supply and vaccines against common diseases. Workers at the stations would be Sanford employees, some local and some from the U.S., as the Dakotas-based network continues its push into international health care.
The middleman in the new relationship is T. Denny Sanford, the namesake of Sanford Health who in recent months has talked several times with Gates as a fellow member of a new circle of billionaire philanthropists. Sanford, 75, a retired Sioux Falls banker, included Krabbenhoft in a recent phone call with Gates, which led to an agreement to talk more about Africa.
“We’ve got some people working with him. One of his priorities is emerging and developing countries in Africa,” Krabbenhoft said of Gates.
Krabbenhoft recounted his talk with Gates during a recent interview concerning his life and the health network he leads.
Among his new concerns is Ghana, a nation about the size of Oregon, with 19 million people along the Atlantic coast of Africa. He said his understanding is that it’s a nation essentially with no roads, many cattle paths, no refrigeration and no electricity.
“Thousands of people send kids to the crick with plastic jugs. ... There’s nothing to keep things cool, no ice truck pulling up. With large numbers of people that depend on that water supply, you’ve got a breeding ground for health issues,” he said.
Developers would dig a network of wells dotting the Ghana countryside, each with an adjacent building that Krabbenhoft said would be no bigger than a rest-area station along an interstate highway in South Dakota. When local residents come for fresh water, health workers would be able to address a second problem, a local aversion to inoculations.
“They don’t like our vaccines, but when they come for water, we’d say, ‘You want fresh water? Roll up your sleeve,’ ” he said.
The idea took shape when Krabbenhoft and Sanford were at a Twin Cities hotel for a business meeting. Sanford took a call in the lobby and handed the phone to Krabbenhoft without explaining it was Gates.
The call lasted 30 seconds. It’s the only time the two have talked. But Krabbenhoft said it is clear they have similar aims.
Gates, a co-founder of Microsoft, lives in the Pacific Northwest. Officials at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle declined to comment on the Sanford connection or Ghana.
“The foundation does not provide information about potential future events that may or may not be happening,” senior communications officer Michal Fishman said by email.
Krabbenhoft said more is to come.
“He said to me, ‘I understand we’ll be getting together soon.’ We’re trying to come in with a business model that makes it a practical business endeavor. Enter Bill Gates. He has the development priority while we have the health care priority. We’re trying to put that together,” Krabbenhoft said.
In an interview in his Sioux Falls office, Krabbenhoft, 53, said he expects to stay on the job until retiring sometime between 2021 and 2025. He said he gets calls about twice a year from people asking him to run for office. He’s a Republican, conservative in business and finance, moderate on social issues, he said.
His answer always is no. But that’s not forever either. “When I’m all done at Sanford, who knows?” he said.
Krabbenhoft said a $100 million gift from T. Denny Sanford is the centerpiece of a new Sanford Health initiative that will include construction, starting next year, of a facility named the Edith Sanford Breast Health Center to honor the philanthropist’s mother.
That gift was set up as a nine-year pledge. Sanford paid it off with a single $81.5 million cash gift in December, an early-pay discount that satisfied the full $100 million based on present value of what would have been future payments.
The same occurred with the landmark $400 million gift in 2007. The philanthropist paid it off in two years instead of eight for a total of $365 million with an early-pay discount.
Moody’s Investor Service reported that Sanford Health also received another gift, for $35 million, in fiscal 2010. Krabbenhoft said that $35 million also was from T. Denny Sanford but that it was coincidence that it exactly matched the amount of the discount on the earlier gift.
“There’s no connection. We’re constantly putting together multimillion-dollar gifts from Denny,” Krabbenhoft said.
He said the health system doesn’t announce all its donations and that T. Denny Sanford, to date, had given the health system bearing his name in the range of $650 million to $700 million.