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Merger on the horizon

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
UnityPoint Health, which operates UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge, may become partners with Sanford Health, the two companies announced Friday.

UnityPoint Health, the Des Moines-based health care organization which operates UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge, is anticipated to merge with Sanford Health, headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the two companies announced Friday.

The transaction between the two health care giants is subject to various regulatory reviews, but could be finalized by the end of 2019.

Once finalized, the partnership will result in the formation of a new company.

The announcement impacts the entire UnityPoint Health organization, including its Fort Dodge hospital.

UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge, which includes the hospital and multiple clinics, employs more than 1,000 people.

The implications for employees are relatively unknown, according to Alyssa Stanek, UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge senior marketing communications specialist.

“In the months ahead we will be working closely with Sanford Health to determine exactly what our combined workforce might look like and ensure we have the right roles for the care people will need both today and into the future,” Stanek said. “Sanford and UnityPoint Health share a commitment to ensuring we have the right team members, physicians and leaders to deliver a world-class personalized experience. That said, no organization can ever commit to no reductions or layoffs. Our goal is to preserve our talented team members while meeting the sustainability needs of a high-performing organization.”

Stanek said patients won’t notice any immediate changes.

“We are considering a partnership to create a better health care experience for our patients, but these things take time,” Stanek said. “We are still in the early stages of this decision. In the meantime, patients can expect their care to continue as usual.”

She said UnityPoint will remain committed to Fort Dodge.

“Health care is — and always will be — delivered locally,” Stanek said. “Our Iowa roots run deep. We are invested in having a strong presence in the Midwest and we take that responsibility very seriously. Our partnership with Sanford Health will bring significant benefits to Iowans and local communities across the state. Through the partnership, communities across the Midwest will gain greater access to treatment innovations — including the integration of genetic medicine into primary care — and access to later-stage clinical research trials, which require a larger number of sites than early-stage trials.”

She added, “We will continue to operate as the largest health care system in the state and the largest employer in many of Iowa’s communities. We will make significant investments in educating and training the workforce of the future, through our affiliated colleges and other workforce development programs.”

The new company could have a new name, but those details are still being worked out, according to Shawn Neisteadt, a spokesperson for Sanford Health.

The company is anticipated to be led by Kevin Vermeer, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health, and Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO of Sanford Health.

Krabbenhoft would serve as president and CEO, and Vermeer would serve as senior executive and vice president.

“Our organizations share a deep commitment to exceptional patient care and a vision for transforming and sustaining health care in our communities,” Vermeer said. “We are approaching our discussions very purposefully, with a clear and common vision for success. First and foremost, our focus is on people. Working together, we will find new ways to broaden access to care — beyond the traditional settings — and take greater responsibility for the health of the populations we serve.”

In a letter addressing concerns of the new partnership, Vermeer said, “The opportunity to partner with Sanford represents an opportunity to get bigger, but not for the sake of growth alone. If we get bigger in terms of geography, it’s so we can do better, on your behalf. We are not being sold or acquired — we’re intentionally shaping a new path forward so we can continue to be your partner in health.”

Krabbenhoft added, “Sanford and UnityPoint are two successful systems intent on controlling our own destiny. We believe that in the very near future, fully integrated health systems will drive greater value through affordable options for high-quality health care to patients, governments and employers. The combination of Sanford and UnityPoint will help both organizations better meet this need, creating a new system positioned for continued growth across a broad geography.”

Vermeer said a person’s physician, care team, hospital, and insurance coverage are among the things that won’t change as a result of the new partnership.

With more than $11 billion in operating revenue, the combined company would rank among the top 15 largest nonprofit health systems in the country.

The new organization would employ more than 83,000 people and 2,600 physicians. It would operate in 26 states and nine countries, including hospitals, clinics, health plans and networks, post-acute care, research, innovation and other lines of business.

A new governing board would be established for the new company, made up of representatives from both legacy organizations, plus additional unaffiliated board members with relevant national industry experience and expertise. UnityPoint Health would recommend the inaugural board chair, according to company representatives.

Both organizations would continue to operate their respective fully-integrated medical groups and maintain longstanding relationships with independent physicians, hospitals and other health care partners.

“We will work tirelessly to find the next cures for diseases like type 1 diabetes and breast cancer; train and grow our own physicians, nurses and other medical professionals who commit to providing care in rural America; and offer innovative health and wellness products and telemedicine services to help people live better, get care closer to home and stay healthier,” Krabbenhoft said.

Vermeer added, “As trusted health care brands with deep Midwestern roots, our organizations have worked hard to establish strong relationships in the communities we serve, whether that be a small rural town or a location across the globe. Together, we will build on these relationships to create new opportunities to meet unique community needs and thrive in an ever-changing environment.”

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