UnityPoint Plans to Merge With Sanford Health, What Will This Mean for Patients?

DES MOINES, Iowa -- UnityPoint Health announced plans on Friday to merge with Sanford Health, a South Dakota-based hospital system.

The two parties hope to close the deal by the end of the year. If the deal goes through, the combined hospitals would become a top 15 non-profit healthcare system in the country in terms of size, employing 83,000 staff. The hospital system would operate in 26 states and nine countries.

Dr. Allen Zagoren is the medical director at the UnityPoint Wound Healing Center and a public administration professor at Drake University. He says he hopes with the combined resources that the hospital will perform better.

“I'm not sure that the patients in Iowa will notice much of a difference, certainly they shouldn't in quality and they shouldn't in terms of outcomes, hopefully, improving outcomes overall. Nor should the patients in the other states,” said Zagoren.

Zagoren says being a larger system could impact employment and stabilize the cost of care.

“The new system, whatever it will be called, [has] the opportunity to have much more power in terms of purchasing and in terms of buying things that they use. Also, the availability in terms of hiring,” he said.

Sanford Health comes into this deal with some recent baggage. Two of its own doctors have sued the health network. They claimed a major surgeon defrauded millions from the government, got kickbacks from his personal company, and Sanford helped cover it up.

In a lawsuit unsealed on Thursday, two doctors allege that Dr. Wilson Asfora performed “medically unnecessary” spine surgeries in order to purchase medical devices from his own company, passing the costs on to Medicaid and Medicare. The doctors claim they alerted the hospital to this but that "Sanford continues to consciously and intentionally protect Dr. Asfora and line its own pocket while putting patients in harm’s way.” UnityPoint called the lawsuit a “Sanford Health matter” and says they have no information to share at this time.

In 2017 the Federal Trade Commission authorized court action to block Sanford's proposed acquisition of Mid Dakota Clinic. UnityPoint could not comment on what measures the two sides will take to avoid anti-trust issues.

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