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North Country Health services to merge with Sanford

BEMIDJI - Sanford Health and North Country Health Services in Bemidji, announced Thursday that they plan to merge early next year. Most notably, the partnership will fully unite the Sanford Clinic in Bemidji with adjoining North Country Regional ...

BEMIDJI - Sanford Health and North Country Health Services in Bemidji, announced Thursday that they plan to merge early next year.

Most notably, the partnership will fully unite the Sanford Clinic in Bemidji with adjoining North Country Regional Hospital.

The merger, if completed as planned in a letter of intent, will be the largest addition to Sanford Health, with roots in Sioux Falls, S.D., since it merged a year ago with MeritCare Health System in Fargo.

North Country representatives said the merger will help provide better health care for a medical service area with a population of about 100,000 in northern Minnesota.

"From the standpoint of the community, it's a great day for us," said Jim Bensen, a member of North Country's trustees. "We're very excited about the potential of it."

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Sanford has pledged to invest $75 million over the next 10 years in facilities, technology and recruiting. Much of that will be aimed at improving key specialty areas, such as cardiology, cancer treatment, orthopedics, women's services and neuroscience.

Besides expanded local access to specialty care, patients will benefit from a planned electronic medical records system, eliminating the need for scanning many paper records between the separate clinic and hospital.

North Country's decision to align with Sanford stemmed from a strategic planning effort that started a year ago.

Sanford emerged in April

as the clear choice to pursue as a merger partner

Bensen said.

One reason is that Sanford is heavily involved in medical research, which Bensen said helps patients by being on top of innovations in care.

"Joining with Sanford in a fully integrated model of care is truly a natural progression of our longstanding relationship," said Paul Hanson, chief executive of North Country, which has more than 900 employees.

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The Bemidji medical center includes 80 hospital beds, 16 rehabilitation beds, 12 geriatric psychiatric beds, as well as 78 nursing home beds and 120 assisted-living apartments.

North Country would be the largest hospital in the Sanford Health system outside of Fargo and Sioux Falls.

"This is the perfect time to pursue ways we can work together to grow and improve our services in northern Minnesota," said Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford's chief executive.

The goal is to complete the merger in three to five months. Both organizations are engaged in a "due diligence" review, including legal and financial issues.

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

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