WORTHINGTON, Minn. (KELO) — Worthington, Minnesota was host to the third of four public meetings regarding the Sanford Health-Fairview Health merger that was announced in November.  Wednesday night, people filled up the cafeteria at Worthington High School to speak on the topic. 

These community listening sessions are put on by the Minnesota Attorney General’s office as a way for the public to offer their input on the merger. 

Bill Gassen, president and CEO of Sanford Health, and James Hereford, president and CEO of Fairview health, were both in attendance.

“It’s important that we understand, what are the questions they have?  Do they have concerns? And then that allows us to be able to address those questions and address those concerns,” Gassen said. 

“We’re listening. It’s important that we do these things. Many of the things, the issues that are being raised are really non-issues, whether it’s gender affirming care, reproductive rights, whether it’s respect for collective bargaining agreements. Those are all things that Bill and I absolutely can guarantee,” Hereford said.  

They say care for patients and caregivers will remain a priority. 

If everything moves forward as planned, Gassen says the target date to finalize the merger is March 31.  

“And again, for us, the sooner we can do that, the sooner we can start to realize the benefits for all of our patients,” Gassen said.  

The Minnesota Nurses Association announced opposition to the proposal. Paul Schwarz, who works for the Minnesota AFL-CIO, an organization that supports unions, spoke against the plan Wednesday night. 

“It’s not good for our union workers. It is also not good for consumers in southwestern Minnesota to only have basically one choice. And it’s putting way too much market power in the hands of just one entity,” Schwarz said.  

David Harmpost, who is a patient of Sanford Health and lives in Worthington, supports the merger. 

“The care is very good here, but maybe it would enhance more, you know, better things to come, more physicians and more specialists and that sort of thing,” Harmpost said.  

Another concern is what it means for “M Health Fairview” in Minneapolis, which is operated through a partnership between Fairview Health and the University of Minnesota that lasts through at least 2026.

Hereford says they plan to honor that contract and that there is plenty of time to figure out what the future looks like between the two entities if the merger goes through.  

The final community listening session will be in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on January 31.