Letter: Making a case for the Fairview/Sanford merger
Dr. James Breitenbucher writes, "A University partnership with a combined Fairview/Sanford system would allow both the University and the merged care systems to expand their high-end subspecialty practices in size, programs, and revenue ..."
As a physician and patient with direct experience with Fairview, Sanford Health and the University of Minnesota, I feel compelled to comment on the proposed merger.
I worked clinically in the Fairview system for 20 years, practicing nephrology, then spent 15 years at the University of Minnesota Medical Center as vice president for medical affairs. I have profound respect for University faculty, from whom I also received exemplary health care. I also began receiving care at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center when my wife and I decided that it was advantageous to have a primary care provider closer to our lake home as we aged and I anticipated retirement. I was very pleased with my access to care at that location.
In the spring of 2016, I experienced a stroke in progress. We requested air transport to the University’s medical center, but storms in the area precluded air transport, so I was taken by ambulance to the Sanford Stroke Center in Fargo. I arrived unable to speak any intelligible words. After emergency interventions, I was almost immediately speaking and in four days I was fishing with my son. At my one-year neurology follow-up, I was told that I had no demonstrable neuro deficits. The care I received at Sanford in Fargo saved my life and my ability to experience a wonderful retirement.
I share this anecdote to suggest that the similarities between the two care systems are much greater than their differences. Most importantly, both deliver high quality clinical care. A University partnership with a combined Fairview/Sanford system would allow both the University and the merged care systems to expand their high-end subspecialty practices in size, programs, and revenue – the kind of growth that is good for all Minnesotans.
Should the medical school choose to partner with a combined Sanford/Fairview system, academic physicians would vastly increase their clinical practice base to include patients in rural Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and Iowa. I am confident that three world-class organizations working together would not only increase health care access at a time of such importance, but it would also improve the financial health that Fairview, Sanford, and the University of Minnesota Medical School need to thrive.
This is incredibly important, because the University of Minnesota Medical School depends on academic support from Fairview. And it's derived from clinical revenue, which is in turn dependent on expanding its faculty practice. The University (and the State of Minnesota) needs assurance of this continued support in the long term, but that assured support needs to be structured within the financial ability of the combined endeavor.
While I strongly support the University of Minnesota, I am highly skeptical that an independent University of Minnesota medical system can be successful in the current health care delivery environment. It couldn’t be done in 1997, and it’s going to be infinitely more difficult now.
Finally, I should disclose that I still do some consulting for Fairview, where I continue to have first hand knowledge that what is best for patients and employees is the driving force behind this merger. Whatever path is taken, I hope all parties will find a way – together – on a path that accommodates all three systems. Fairview, Sanford, and the University all offer world class medical care. I am living proof.
Dr. James Breitenbucher lives in Tucson, Ariz.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.