Sanford Sheldon Medical Center

Sanford Sheldon Medical Center is part of the Sioux Falls, SD-based Sanford Health organization. Sanford announced it was merging with Des Moines-based UnityPoint Health.

SHELDON—U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley is cautiously optimistic about the announced merger between UnityPoint Health of Des Moines and Sanford Health of Sioux Falls, SD, which operates a medical center in Sheldon.

The tenured Republican from Iowa has been outspoken in his dislike of the continued consolidation of agricultural companies and expressed a similar fear during a call with The Mail-Sun and a Cherokee radio station on Monday, July 1.

“We’ve had a lot of mergers of health organizations,” Grassley said. “I’m kind of a guy that starts with some suspicion about it, but I don’t want to bad mouth the effort. I think it’s always with the intent of delivering best health care within the most efficient and inexpensive way that they can, but I also — and both organizations do that and both organizations have a good reputation as far as I’m concerned.”

Sanford and UnityPoint announced Friday, June 28, they had signed a letter of intent to merge.

The combined company would generate more than $11 billion in operating revenue, making it one of the 15th largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S.

The new organization would employ more than 83,000 staff and 2,600 physicians and carry out operations in 26 states and nine countries, including hospitals, clinics, health plans and networks, post-acute care, research, innovation and other lines of business.

“When you have these mergers like this, you have less competition and with less competition, I kind of think the price is higher,” Grassley said. “They are going to be able to tell us that they do it cheaper and, hopefully, they can and maybe my philosophical views don’t apply as much to health delivery as they do to agriculture and manufacturing.”

Should the merger go through, it would be Sanford’s fifth merger since 2009.

Sanford merged with Fargo, ND-based MeritCare in 2009; follow by North County Regional Health in Bemidji, MN, in 2011; Bismarck, ND-based Medcenter One Health Systems in 2012 and The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society of Sioux Falls in January.

In addition to Sheldon, Sanford maintains locations for a variety of health-care services throughout N’West Iowa, including in Boyden, Hartley, Hospers, Inwood, Orange City, Rock Rapids and Sanborn.

What’s unclear in Sanford’s announcement of the deal is how many or if any jobs will be impacted.

A Sanford spokesperson said its leadership team was unavailable for calls at this time and Sanford Sheldon administrator Rick Nordahl is out of the office this week.

However, the combined company, which has a target launch date of Jan. 1, did announce its pending leadership team.

Current Sanford president and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft would retain his role and UnityPoint president and CEO Kevin Vermeer would become senior executive vice president, the second most senior executive position.

In a statement, Krabbenhoft championed the move as a positive for both systems.

“We believe that in the very near future, fully integrated health systems will drive greater value through affordable options for high-quality health care to patients, governments and employers,” he said.

“The combination of Sanford and UnityPoint will help both organizations better meet this need, creating a new system positioned for continued growth across a broad geography.”

Sanford Sheldon, which will celebrate its 70th anniversary in the community in 2022, has long been one of the city’s largest employers and carries an enormous economic impact.

According to the 2019 Economic Impact of the Health Sector report compiled by the Iowa Hospital Association, Sanford Sheldon employs 337 people, has a payroll of nearly $16.9 million and creates a financial impact of about $22.4 million.