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Sanford Health, the parent organization of Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society and the nation’s largest rural healthcare system, announced Tuesday that it plans to combine with Minnesota’s Fairview Health Services next year.

The move will add more skilled nursing and rehabilitation services to Sanford’s footprint. With more than 8,500 nursing beds reported in the 2022 LZ200, Good Sam is already the nation’s largest not-for-profit multisite senior living organization when ranked by skilled care.

Fairview operates a range of senior and healthcare services under the Ebenezer Senior Living brand, including about 250 skilled beds split across five campuses.

In announcing their plans to create an enhanced health system Tuesday, Sanford and Fairview said the joint venture would complement Sanford’s largely rural footprint with services in more urban areas.

Good Sam CEO Nate Schema was traveling and unavailable for an interview Tuesday, but a spokeswoman for Sanford Health told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News there would be no immediate changes in Good Sam or Ebenzer’s daily operations.

“Our aligned missions and deep commitment to health, healing and community position us well to transform the future of healthcare and positively impact the wellbeing of the patients, residents and communities we serve for decades to come,”  she said. “Until the transaction closes, Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services remain separate organizations and will continue to operate business as usual.”

Sanford CEO will lead

Earlier this fall, Sanford and Good Sam announced layoffs in non-clinical areas following a decision “to streamline leadership structure and simplify operations in a few focused areas. It was unclear Tuesday whether those moves might have been made in preparation for combining with Fairview.

After the merger, which is expected to be completed in 2023 after clearing necessary board and regulatory hurdles, Sanford and Fairview will remain nonprofit entities, each with their own regional presence, leadership and regional boards. The larger organization will operate under the Sanford Health name.

Sanford Health President and CEO Bill Gassen will assume leadership of the larger organization after the merger, which is for now outlined in a non-binding letter of intent.

“As a combined system, we can do more to expand access to complex and highly specialized care, utilize innovative technology and provide a broader range of virtual services, unlock greater research capabilities and transform the care delivery experience to ensure every patient receives the best care no matter where they live,” Gassen said in a statement.

On LinkedIn, he called the coming merger “another pivotal step forward” for Sanford, noting the new venture would unite 56 hospitals and approximately 600 care sites. Leaders billed the combined system as being uniquely positioned to provide more people access to high-quality, equitable healthcare, especially in rural communities.

Sanford has scrubbed two publicly detailed merger plans in recent years, though it completed the successful alliance with Good Sam in early 2019.
Schema, a vocal advocate for maintaining access to senior care, has previously praised the power of vertical integration, telling McKnight’s that aligning with Sanford gave Good Sam needed resources during the pandemic and a better ability to innovate long-term care coming out of it.