Email shows what led to Sanford Health, UnityPoint merger talks breaking down

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sanford Health and UnityPoint Health abruptly stopped plans to merge on Tuesday.

Sanford Health had announced plans to merge with Iowa-based UnityPoint Health in June 2019.

Sanford and UnityPoint Health planned to complete it by the end of 2019.

An internal email obtained by KELOLAND News from CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft to leadership points in part to the “public reporting” of a medical device issue.

As KELOLAND News reported, two Sanford doctors filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2016, accusing Dr. Wilson Asfora of performing unnecessary surgeries and defrauding the federal government out of tens of millions of dollars. The case was just unsealed in June. Sanford Health cut ties in late September with Asfora.

“Public reporting of the matter provoked an unsettling series of discussions and inquiries from UnityPoint toward Sanford,” Krabbenhoft wrote to Sanford Health leaders.

Krabenhoft wrote that UnityPoint physician leadership had a different tone.

“The conclusion from UnityPoint physician leadership, regarding the device issue, is summarized here for brevity and collegial politeness: ‘The review of the medical device issue in question revealed Sanford’s process, policies and conduct are at least equal to and in some ways superior to those of UnityPoint.’ – UnityPoint physician,” Krabenhoft wrote.

He wrote in the email that talks broke down in the last week.

Had the merger moved forward, the two health systems would have been one of the largest in the country.

Sanford Health issued the following statement to KELOLAND News:

“Our conversations regarding a potential merger with UnityPoint Health have ended. We were excited at the opportunity our combination would have provided to create a new health system of national prominence. The executive management teams and physicians worked diligently for 18 months to provide a merger recommendation to the boards. We are disappointed that the UnityPoint Health board failed to embrace the vision. Our focus now is on the patients and communities we serve and the 50,000 people working tirelessly to support them.”

Kelby Krabbenhoft, President and CEO, Sanford Health.

Contributed to DocumentCloud by Karen Sherman of KELO-TV • View document or read text

UnityPoint Health statement:

“I’m tremendously proud of our organization and we will continue to work tirelessly to evaluate any avenue that improves the delivery of health care. Sanford is an exceptional organization with a bright future ahead. UnityPoint Health moves forward with strong roots and a fierce commitment to improving the experience of the people we serve.”