University regents ready to move forward with intended medical merger

Fairview and the U of M Physicians would merge under the M Health brand.

Brian Edwards

After years of deliberation and a separate failed merger, the University of Minnesota hopes a recently announced alliance of health care providers will help improve the Medical School’s ranking.
The Board of Regents signed a letter of intent earlier this month that announced a proposed consolidation of Fairview Health Services and University of Minnesota Physicians into the University’s M Health brand. 
While regents say the move will be one of the school’s most important ways to boost the Medical School’s national ranking, administrators tout improved health care, a boost in research capabilities and a streamlined process for both doctors and patients as reasons the merger is necessary.
“This is the most important University initiative of the last couple years,” said Regent Richard Beeson.
The proposed consolidation comes more than two years after a different proposed merger between South Dakota-based Sanford Health and Fairview was discontinued, following concern from Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson, state legislators and Fairview leadership.
Beeson said officials already discussed the current merger in special academic health committee meetings, adding that the group was tasked with finding ways to continue to improve the University’s Medical School.
The project slowly came together over time, Beeson said, and health care changes like the Affordable Care Act accelerated the consolidation.
“The timing was right for this,” Beeson said. 
Although he said there is a natural concern about any type of large-scale consolidation, the University hopes lower health care costs for patients and increased research dollars will quell some of the worries.
The school says University of Minnesota Physicians is quickly growing but can’t keep up with patient demands. On the other hand, many patients don’t know about M Health as a care provider.
The two providers already collaborate heavily with Fairview, but the disjointed system makes it difficult to keep up with a rapidly merging health market in the state, according to Board of Regents documents.
University Medical School Dean Brooks Jackson said at a press conference that having one system will expand clinical trials and provide more access to research sites.
Interim Fairview CEO David Murphy said at the press conference that merging now will allow for more efficient patient care and a better disbursement of funds between the groups.
But the merger won’t come without challenges, he said.
“Bringing the different cultures [of each provider] together will be the hardest part,” Murphy said.
Regent Patricia Simmons said the board analyzed investment strategies, defined common goals for all parties involved and researched the University’s overall priorities — like maintaining control of assets, brand and existing relationships — before the project could move forward. 
But administrators and regents were aware that a new strategy was needed to remain relevant in health care, she said. 
“You recognize at some point that the type of partnership you have is not enough,” Simmons said.