SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Both Sanford and Fairview have signed a nonbinding agreement.
While that’s a first step… it means they still have a lot of work to do to make the merger happen.

Sanford bills itself as the largest rural health care system in the country with 47 medical centers
and 224 clinic locations mostly in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota and Iowa.
Sanford has almost 48,000 employees.

Fairview Health Services in Minnesota has 34,000 employees, the majority based in the twin cities area.

We asked Sanford CEO Bill Gassen, who would run the merged operation, what has changed since the last merger attempt in 2013. He feels many of the virtues of the merger then, remain.

“There are so many incredible opportunities and synergies between Sanford Health and Fairview Health Services, we are far enough apart that they are distinct but we are close enough that we are relevant from a Geographic perspective and I would say today the world in health care looks a lot different than it did a decade ago,” Gassen said.

Gassen reiterated that the merger is far from a done deal.

“A letter of intent is memorializing just that that we want to be able to do this.

He’s confident Fairview and Sanford are a good fit pointing to Sanford’s established footprint in western Minnesota cities like Bemidji, Worthington, Luverne and Jackson

But he notes there is still a lot of work to do to make the merger happen.

“We got to do all the planning and the integration planning and then we have to work with the stakeholders in all of our states and federal regulators to move through that process. I feel really good about it, really confident, but we’ve got a lot of wood still to chop,” Gassen said.

Gassen also says they are talking with the University of Minnesota about the future of the medical school. He says they want to come up with a plan that benefits all stakeholders.