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The Minnesota attorney general’s office is asking the parent organizations of the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and Ebenezer Senior Living — Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services, respectively — to pump the brakes on a proposed merger over questions related to the deal.

During a Wednesday community meeting hosted in Worthington, MN, by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) to gauge public concerns over the intended union announced in November, Chief Deputy Attorney General John Keller urged the health systems to delay the planned March 31 closing date on the deal.

Ellison’s office is investigating the proposed transaction’s compliance with state and federal charities and antitrust laws. According to the attorney general’s office, approximately 3,500 public comments have been submitted regarding the proposed merger. At the meeting, according to published reports, Keller attributed the request for a delay, in part, to concerns raised by the University of Minnesota, as well as questions about how the merger might affect employees, state health insurance premiums and access to care.

In a combined statement to McKnight’s Senior Living, a spokesperson for both health systems called March 31 a “target date” and said the two entities are working closely with the attorney general’s office “to ensure they have the information needed to evaluate this merger.”

“This merger is about doing more for those we serve, and every day we delay merging Sanford and Fairview is a missed opportunity to realize the significant benefits for our patients, our people and the communities we serve,” the statement read. “This merger is also about taking critical steps to provide the necessary financial sustainability to serve Minnesota communities for generations to come.”

According to the Star Tribune, the University of Minnesota indicated that the proposed merger was moving too fast and did not adequately consider its interests, including its mission of providing academic healthcare. 

Merger would create new health system

Sanford and Fairview are the parent organizations of two of the largest not-for-profit senior living and care organizations in the nation. Additionally, Ebenezer is Minnesota’s largest senior living operator.

The merger announced in November, if it comes to fruition, would create a new health system to provide access to “high-quality, equitable healthcare, accelerate population health and value-based care, and drive clinical innovation to benefit rural urban and indigenous communities across the Midwest,” according to the health systems.

The entities indicated they would unite under the Sanford Health name but that both entities would remain nonprofits and maintain their own regional presences, leadership and regional boards. Sanford Health CEO Bill Gassen would serve as president and CEO of the combined system, and Fairview Health CEO James Hereford would serve as co-CEO for a year.

Sanford Health, the nation’s largest rural healthcare system, merged with Good Samaritan in 2019. Earlier this month, Good Sam announced its plans to exit 15 states and reduce its resident and patient count by 30% as it consolidates services to the Midwest. The transition, expected to last more than a year, ultimately will shrink Good Sam’s footprint to seven states and lower its employee base by 5,000 staff members.

Right now, Sanford Health includes more than 200 Good Sam senior living and care locations, 47 medical centers, 45,000 employees and 2,800 physicians and advanced practice providers.

The Fairview Health Services system includes 31,000 employees across 11 hospitals, more than 80 primary and specialty care clinics, 36 retail and specialty pharmacies, rehabilitation centers, a physician network, Ebenezer communities and medical transportation services. Ebenezer provides independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, active adult and affordable senior housing, along with enhanced and transitional care and adult day services.

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