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Sanford in talks to provide surgical support to Manitoba for backlogged spinal surgery cases

Sanford Health administrators stress that no agreement has been reached, and can't predict when pandemic conditions will allow them to accept Canadian patients.

Sanford Medical Center
Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, North Dakota. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Health officials in Manitoba would like to send up to 300 patients who have waited more than a year for spinal surgery to Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.

Officials of Manitoba Shared Health are “finalizing an agreement” with Sanford Health, according to a report by the CBC .

But Bryan Nermoe, president of Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, stressed in an interview on Wednesday, Jan. 19, that no agreement has been reached and said he couldn’t predict when any Canadians would come to Fargo for surgery, given the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We don’t yet have a signed agreement,” Nermoe said. “At this time we aren’t prepared to accept any Canadian patients.”

Still, given the capabilities of Sanford Medical Center, “I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anyone that … at some point in time we would be working with our neighbors to the north.”


Nermoe added: “It is not imminent in any way, shape or form.”

Because of the pandemic and the strains it has placed on health systems, Nermoe said he can’t predict when Sanford could be taking patients under any agreement with Manitoba.

“Right now is the most difficult time that I’ve had in my career to predict what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.

The backlog of surgical and diagnostic cases that has accumulated during the pandemic in Manitoba surpassed 152,000, the CBC reported in December.

Manitoba Shared Health has identified 150 to 300 spinal-surgery patients who could travel to Fargo by car, according to the CBC.

"We acknowledge the suffering. We acknowledge the waits," Dr. Ed Buchel, who heads surgical services for Manitoba Shared Health, told the CBC. There was no way to send patients elsewhere in Canada because every province is struggling to meet the health-care demands of the omicron surge, he said.

So far in the omicron wave, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at Sanford Health campuses in Fargo is manageable — but the health system continues to struggle with staffing.

“It’s too early to draw any conclusions,” from modest hospitalization rates from omicron so far, Nermoe said. “We’re on the upslope of that curve.”


Staffing poses a crisis for every business right now, he said. People tend to think about doctors and nurses, but behind them in a range of support roles, “hundreds of people have to be on the job to give a good experience for the patient.”

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address:
Phone: 701-367-5294
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