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Lawmakers look to stop U of M hospitals sale

ST. PAUL -- Two Minnesota lawmakers are offering legislation to prevent Sanford Health from controlling University of Minnesota hospitals.

Sanford, headquartered in South Dakota and North Dakota, is looking at taking over Fairview Health Services, which operates the university hospital system.

"If we need to pass legislation to protect our University of Minnesota hospitals, then that is absolutely what we should do," Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, said Monday. "The U of M hospitals are too important to our state's education system, our economy and our health care market to not be controlled by a Minnesota entity."

The legislation comes on the heels of a Sunday hearing called by Attorney General Lori Swanson about the potential takeover.

Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, wrote Fairview Chairman Chuck Mooty a letter on the situation.

"It should not surprise you that I, along with most of my colleagues in the Minnesota House, have heard from many people with deep concerns that an institution of such great importance to Minnesota might be controlled by a board in Sioux Falls, S.D.," Atkins wrote.

The Atkins-Schoen legislation would place a one-year moratorium on an out-of-state organization buying Fairview.

Fairview has made several changes in recent years. The system sold the former Fairview Red Wing Medical Center to Mayo Clinic Health System in July 2013.

Atkins plans an April 17 hearing on the bill and he asked that Mooty be there.

Atkins told Mooty that among his concerns is that even as the company has acquired health systems throughout several states, "its center of gravity has very much remained in Sioux Falls." Only three of Sanford's board members are Minnesotans, the lawmaker said, while six of the 15 live in Sioux Falls.

In response to Sanford's proposal to take over Fairview, the University of Minnesota has proposed a similar action of its own.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he does not know of anything the state needs to do about the situation now. "This process will go on for months," he said.

However, because of the "huge public impact" hospital decisions could make on the university and Minnesotans, he is watching the situation. He said he was happy to hear that Mooty said he would not proceed with a Sanford merger if the university objected.

Dayton said he thinks the university can run its own hospital system, but wants to make sure before he takes a firm position on the merger issue.

"It's a big, big financial commitment to the U and the state," he said of the university taking over its hospital system.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.