SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health may be planning to merge with a Utah-based health system, the health system's new headquarters in Salt Lake City. But the move doesn't seem to be a big concern for city and business leaders in Sanford's Sioux Falls hometown, helped largely by assurances that layoffs aren't on the way.

Sanford and Intermountain Healthcare CEOs announced on Monday, Oct. 26, their plans to merge into one system headquartered in Utah, although they'd keep their respective names in their own footprints.

Sanford Health is the No. 1 employer in Sioux Falls, a large corporate sponsor, and a major player in the city's ascension as a fast-growing regional medical hub. Intermountain fills a similar role in Salt Lake City. So the first question to the CEOs was about a loss of jobs.

Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft chuckled and said to expect quite the opposite. Sure, the combined health system will look at places to become more efficient, to control costs. But will that mean layoffs? No, he said.

"If you're a betting person, The number of employees and the size of the organization is going to expand, and expand probably because of the magnetism and the monmentium that these create, I think, quite readily and quite significantly," he said.

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Sanford Health employs nearly 50,000, with 210 clinics and 46 hospitals in the Upper Midwest including major health care centers in Sioux Falls, Fargo and Bemidji, Minn.

Krabbenhoft compared layoff concerns with the fears some felt in the Fargo area when Sanford Health merged with MeritCare Health System 11 years ago next week.

"Fargo and Sioux Falls came together, and you would have thought we were putting Pluto and Mars together," he said.

But the merger led to the large new Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, and doubled the system's employment in the Fargo region, Krabbenhoft said.

The new Sanford Medical Center in southwest Fargo. David Samson / The Forum
The new Sanford Medical Center in southwest Fargo. David Samson / The Forum

"I think the odds are so much more significantly on the side of momentum and growth and opportunity with what we're putting together here today," he said. "I think people should just look at the past history of this organization, that I can speak for, in terms of what happens with the workforce."

The Sanford CEO isn't alone in his assessment. Dr. Roger Gilbertson, who retired in 2009 as MeritCare's CEO the day the merger took effect, told The Forum in a retrospective that year that the merger led to "transformation change," the 2017 opening of the new medical center being only one of the most obvious benefits.

City and business leaders in Sioux Falls seemed to welcome the Sanford merger news. Jeff Griffin, president & CEO of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, congratulated the health system, noting its long history of strong community support.

"Sanford Health has long been a driver of growth and innovation in our community," Griffin said. "They are a strong community partner and remain committed to and invested in the Sioux Falls region, even as they pursue strategic growth plans across the globe."

Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken took much the same approach, saying he was excited about the merger news and what it could mean for health care in the region. But he added a note of watchfulness for what the merger could mean for the city's job market in the future.

"We’ve built a strong reputation for superior health care access right here in Sioux Falls, and I have no doubt that will continue," he said. "I am looking forward to hearing more on what the combined entity will look like operationally and what impact, if any, it may have on our Sioux Falls job market."

Fugleberg covers regional health issues, with a focus on Sanford Health. He can be followed on Twitter at @jayfug and reached at jfugleberg@forumcomm.com or 605-777-3357.