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Published January 16, 2013, 08:53 AM

Dakotas-based Sanford Health might expand to China

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Sanford Health could be operating in China in about a year if the Dakotas-based health system can work out details of a joint venture with that country's communist government, a company official said.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Sanford Health could be operating in China in about a year if the Dakotas-based health system can work out details of a joint venture with that country's communist government, a company official said.

The Chinese are building a children's hospital and clinic in Kunming, a city of 6 million people. The government will own the facility but Sanford could provide medical services, Ruth Krystopolski, Sanford's executive vice president of development and research, told the Argus Leader.

"It would be a joint venture with a foreign government. How do we structure that?" Krystopolski said. "The next 30 to 60 days, we'll know what that structure will look like."

If the issue gets settled soon, Sanford could be operating in China within a year, Krystopolski said

Sanford, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Fargo, N.D., bills itself as the largest not-for-profit rural health care provider in the country, with locations in 126 communities in eight states, and is expanding globally. It will open its fourth clinic this month in the African nation of Ghana. It plans to expand into Ireland and Mexico this year and Israel next year, and is exploring the possibility of operating a children's clinic in India.

China and India are the world's most populous countries, with a total of about 2.5 billion people.

Kunming became a possibility for Sanford when about three dozen business leaders came to South Dakota last April for an event called American Visiting Institute for Chinese Real Estate Entrepreneurs. The group toured the Sanford research center, allowing one member, Bingquan Lu, a professor from Kunming, to meet Sanford officials and discuss the needs of his homeland.

"It was an accidental introduction," Krystopolski said.

Eldon Nygaard, a retired college professor and former South Dakota legislator, co-sponsored the institute with the University of South Dakota. He said many U.S. health systems are looking for opportunities for more international work.

"China is hungry for increasing its education, increasing its quality of living. They're interested in learning more about what we do in America," Nygaard said.

"Communism is not the communism of two and three decades ago," he said. "It's changing so rapidly. If you described it today, next year your description might be wrong. They're opening up to the world."

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