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Published January 17, 2012, 10:14 AM

Sanford, Medcenter One discuss possible merger

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Two large health care providers in the Dakotas are discussing a possible merger.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Two large health care providers in the Dakotas are discussing a possible merger.

Officials from Sanford Health, based in Fargo, N.D., and Sioux Falls, S.D., and Medcenter One in Bismarck, N.D., have confirmed they have started exploratory talks. If a merger happens it would be the biggest for Sanford since the then-Sioux Falls-based company combined with Fargo-based Meritcare in 2009, creating the new Sanford Health, which has a presence in more than 100 communities in eight states.

"Absolutely we are talking," Andrew Richburg, an executive vice president at Sanford in Fargo, told The Forum for a story published Monday (http://bit.ly/w3byGC). "The focus of discussions centers around our potential together and what is best for our patients and the communities we serve."

Craig Lambrecht, Medcenter's president and CEO, said in a statement that, "Medcenter One is financially strong, and we are actively involved in defining our best strategic options going forward in a health care reform era that will challenge us with more demands for health care services and less reimbursement."

Medcenter One is one of two hospitals in North Dakota's capital city. It has 226 beds, compared to 586 beds for Sanford in two Fargo campuses. Sanford and Medcenter have little overlap in their service areas, except in Jamestown, where both have clinics. However, Richburg said the two organizations have a longstanding "collegial relationship and a history of partnership and collaboration."

Sanford fertility specialists see Medcenter patients at Medcenter, and both companies are members of the Health Policy Consortium, an North Dakota industry lobbying group.

Jerry Jurena, president of the North Dakota Hospital Association, said an agreement between Sanford and Medcenter could range from one involving certain services to a full-fledged merger.

"A network isn't that big of a deal," he said. "But a merger would be something else."

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