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Medical professionals enthused about Dakota, Essentia merger

Local medical professionals expressed enthusiasm about news that Dakota Clinic and Essentia Health will merge effective Jan. 1.

The merger was announced at a news conference at Innovis Health in Fargo Tuesday.

"We are very excited about this merger and view it as a wonderful opportunity for both our organization and the patients and communities we serve," said Laurie Hanson, division manager for Dakota Clinic.

"We are two similar organizations with a shared mission and vision, and we look forward to having the support we need to continue to deliver the healthcare we believe in," Hanson said.

Dr. Larry Leadbetter, a physician at Dakota Clinic and Dakota Clinic board member for about six years, said he sees the merger as "a good move for patients as Essentia has more experience and experts," giving local physicians the ability to tap into more resources.

"It moves things forward for us as physicians," he added.

According to Hanson, one of the immediate benefits is the expansion of the clinic's provider referral network from 180-plus physicians to more than 600. "This type of networking also assists with successful recruitment and retention of new physicians locally and throughout our healthcare system as we look forward to expanding our services in the years ahead," Hanson added.

Dr. Leadbetter also believes the new structure will help keep health care costs down. "There will be a new governance structure. It is yet to be fully outlined, but we will have representation," Dr. Leadbetter said.

"We are very supportive of this change and believe that it will help strengthen healthcare for people in our area," said Ben Koppelman, president/chief executive officer of St. Joseph's Area Health Services.

"We have had a very collaborative working relationship with Dakota Clinic and we look forward to establishing a very similar relationship with Essentia Health."

Dakota Clinic and St. Joseph's have begun a building and renovation project that joins the two healthcare facilities. "As far as our building project goes," Hanson said, "I feel this merger just enhances the excitement that already exists in our combined venture with St. Joseph's."

Dr. Leadbetter also mentioned the merger "ties us together with the eastern frontier in Walker." The Benedictine Health System, which is part of Essentia Health, has been working with the community of Walker to open an acute care hospital at AhGwahChing. "So it is the same people," Dr. Leadbetter said.

In fact, he added, a big driving force for the merger was Dakota Clinic and Essentia's similar focus on rural communities. "Essentia's philosophy is not to take patients out of local communities to a central hub, but to provide services in communities," Dr. Leadbetter said.

Hanson explained Essentia Health now has three legs: the Benedictines, St. Mary's Duluth Clinic and Innovis Health.

"To clarify any potential concern regarding women's healthcare," Hanson said, "we (Innovis Health) will remain a secular organization and are, therefore not required to follow the ethical and religious directives of the Catholic Church."

On Feb. 1, Essentia Health, Duluth, and Dakota Clinic/Innovis Health signed a letter of intent to pursue a merger.

In outlining their vision, the board members of the two organizations drew on a shared mission of supporting the communities in which they serve and a similar structure with physician leadership.

Following several months of due diligence and joint discussions on the definitive agreement, the Essentia Health board approved the agreement and directed administration to finalize the details. On Nov. 8, according to its bylaws, the Dakota Clinic board opened a 14-day voting period for stockholders to vote on accepting the terms of an agreement. The 91 stockholders affirmed the agreement in unison, demonstrating their strong support for the merger.

"We are enthusiastic about this merger," said Greg Glasner, MD, chairperson of the Dakota Clinic Board of Directors. "This is a merger of two like organizations, with a shared vision and mission, dedicated to providing the best healthcare possible for the communities in which we live and serve through an integrated healthcare delivery system. This is a win-win for us all."

"We are pleased with the strong support for this merger," said Peter E. Person, MD, CEO, Essentia Health. "We believe that this integration will bring together two organizations with unique expertise and a shared desire to enhance health care in this region. We are looking forward to working together and building innovative relationships that can accomplish this shared vision."

Simultaneous to the merger with Essentia Health, Dakota Clinic/Innovis Health has been on the path toward an integrated not-for-profit organization. This newly integrated organization, effective Jan. 1, 2008, will be known throughout its system as "Innovis Health." A new graphic identity, reflective of the integration, as well as its merger with Essentia Health, was unveiled to staff and the public in conjunction with the announcement earlier this week.

The Dakota Clinics in Menahga and Walker also will become part of the new system affiliated with Innovis Health.