Now past talk of mergers, U and Fairview look forward

New leadership and legislation could still affect Fairview, which includes the U Medical Center.

by Branden Largent

Administrators, students and state legislators are looking to the future of Fairview Health Services and the University of Minnesota Medical Center after two merger proposals fell through last week.

The potential acquisition of Fairview by South Dakota-based Sanford Health caused a stir among Minnesotans last month; a similar proposal from the University came to light a week later.

Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson held a public hearing to investigate the Sanford merger’s effects on the state and the UMMC on April 7. Sanford CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft  pulled out of talks three days later, and Fairview announced it would not consider a merger with the University.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, attended the hearing last Sunday and said she thinks the announcement was a reaction to Swanson’s heavy interrogation of the Sanford executives.

“They saw the public process in Minnesota as opposed to South Dakota, and I think they just decided they didn’t need to get into this,” Kahn said.

Many medical students were glad the merger between Sanford and Fairview didn’t go through, said University Medical Student Council president Amin Alishahi. But, he added, they hope a deal between Fairview and the University is still viable.

Several schools throughout the country have bought back their medical centers from private institutions in recent years, Alishahi said.

Although Fairview does a good job of training medical students, he said, some think the University could benefit from buying UMMC from Fairview.

Physicians who are considering working at the University might view Fairview’s control over the medical center negatively if they want to focus on academia, Alishahi said.

“I think from a training perspective, and to recruit the top talent around the country, it might be better to have the Medical School own its own hospital,” he said.

University of Minnesota Physicians CEO Bobbi Daniels  said she is confident Fairview will continue working with the University to meet their respective missions.

“I don’t think we’re back at square one. The relationship has evolved and improved significantly over time,” she said.

Fairview will also rekindle its search for a new CEO, said University Medical School Dean Aaron Friedman, who’s on Fairview’s board of directors.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who introduced a bill last week that would force Fairview to return any public funding if it merges with an out-of-state company, said he thinks the merger talks have benefited the University’s relationship with Fairview.

“I think that the U and Fairview need each other,” he said. “I think at the end of this, Fairview and the U have been closer than ever, and I think eventually they’ll evolve.”

Abeler will continue to push the bill, which will be heard in the House’s Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee on Wednesday afternoon — along with two bills that would prevent out-of-state companies from acquiring Fairview.

Although he’s unsure of the bills’ chances, Abeler said the merger talks and the ensuing bills have created a “very good discussion” about the University’s future.

Since the end of 2011, leaders from the Academic Health Center, Fairview and UMPhysicians have started a process to move the UMMC and the Amplatz Children’s Hospital  into the top 10 academic medical centers in the country, Daniels said.

“The work that we’ve been proceeding on is designed to do that,” she said. “We intend to continue and accelerate that moving forward.”