The merger between Sanford Health and the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society is now set to start two months before initially scheduled. But joining two of the area’s largest employers signals a change in the healthcare industry both at home and around the country.
Sanford Health Chief Administrative Officer Randy Bury says healthcare is an evolving industry. He says it used to be that clinics were separate from hospitals, and long-term facilities like nursing homes were separate from acute-care providers.
“And if you were in a hospital like I was, you didn’t pay much attention to what happened in the clinics, you didn’t pay much attention to what happened after they went to long term care, cus it kind of didn’t matter," says Bury. "You were taking care of an episode of care, just an episode of care. They came into the hospital, you get them out of the hospital.”
But over the past few decades, Bury says more and more healthcare systems are integrating services. He says this is better for patients because it allows for a more seamless transition.
“You can manage the care from whatever setting you’re in and be very coordinated with the other aspects of care," he explains.
Bury says providing that continuum of care to the region was the impetus for Sanford’s merger with the Good Samaritan Society. It’s one of the largest non-profit senior care providers in the country, but like Sanford Health, its cooperate headquarters are in Sioux Falls.
But many senior care providers are struggling amid workforce challenges and funding struggles, and Good Samaritan is no exception. David Horazdovsky is President and CEO of the Good Samaritan Society, and he says the organization has been preparing for partnership opportunities for a number of years. He says the merge with Sanford makes sense.
“When you think about two organizations and many ways here in Sioux falls we share the same backyard fence if you will," says Horazdovsky. "We kind of just looked over the fence and knew we were neighbors, but we realized what we could do together."
But joining two of the area’s largest employers—each with about a century’s worth of history in the area—means convincing each institution’s governing boards. Randy Bury says Sanford’s board members saw a chance to expand beyond a traditional focus on acute care into the world of long-term and senior care. He also says the natural partnership sprang from mutual Lutheran roots and sharing a similar coverage area.
David Horazdovsky says Good Samaritan’s focus was ensuring a shared mission statement. He says they were able to reach that agreement with a combined mission of “Sharing God’s love through health, healing and comfort.”
He says, "Once we got that hood ornament, if you will, aligned and both organizations mission-wise could come together respecting our roots and Lutheran traditions and as a faith organizations, if you will, in the sense of caring for people and community, everything else seemed to line up.”
After approval from both boards, the final seal of approval came from the Federal Trade Commission to ensure the merger didn’t create a healthcare monopoly. Bury says the commission has a 30-day period to respond with any further questions after entities file for a merger. With that in mind, the tentative date of the merger was scheduled for January first of next year.
However, if the 30 days pass without further contact, the businesses are free to continue as planned. And Bury says that’s exactly what happened once midnight passed on August 8th.
“So that’s when we got back together and said, well maybe we don’t need to wait til January 1 to close then because if there’s not a second request maybe we can move it up, so we’re currently anticipating a November 1 closing.”
Both Bury and Horazdovsky say the merge will have little effect on their employees’ day-to-day operations. Horazdovsky says there’s a greater chance for mobility within the system between Sanford’s 28,000 employees and Good Samaritan’s 19,000.
“If anything I think there’s excitement that our future has been struck and we know where we’re going," he says. "And we’ll be soliciting all of their good ideas as we approach this new model of care that we’ve been talking about and absolutely need each and every one of them to accomplish that.”
But there’s been some concern that the merger could result in some limited job losses. Both Bury and Horazdovsky emphasize the chances for growth. Bury says that at any given point, there are more than a thousand job openings across the Sanford system. As of last week, there were more than 500 various openings in Sioux Falls alone.
“I mean it’s a well know fact, you hear every day one of the biggest issues we face is workforce shortage. And so we believe that the jobs are there, there’s work to be done and it’s all about growth and opportunity.”
And growth in senior care has been lacking in recent years. For example, the Good Samaritan Home in rural Tripp, South Dakota closed earlier this year. Horazdovsky says it’s unlikely any closed homes will reopen after the merger.
“With a workforce such as it is, and some shrinking demographic populations, we just geographically have to look for how do we best serve a more geographic area as opposed to a single town if you will," he says. "And again those are hard, hard decisions.”
But he says the addition of Sanford Health’s resources may allow for a different approach in other communities. Randy Bury says another aspect of healthcare’s ongoing evolution is the increasing role of technology.
“It might not be the exact way the care is provided today, but there will be access to care, and so I think it’s using all kind of the tools in the toolbox to try to make sure we cover our geography in the very best way we can.”
Bury says future opportunities with telehealth and in-home services will impact care at all age levels. David Horasdovsky agrees, saying healthcare is moving beyond just brick-and-mortar sites like hospitals.
While some might call it more of an acquisition than a merger, Horazdovsky says each entity is adding to services that the other has not yet been able to provide.
“Good Samaritan doesn’t do what Sanford Health does, Sanford Health really doesn’t do what Good Samaritan Society does. But together we’re stronger and together we can create that fully integrated system, and so when we’re coming together it’s not replacing something [that]’s already existing, it’s rather complimenting," Horazdovsky says.
The magnitude of combining Good Samaritan’s 95 years of service with Sanford’s 125 isn’t lost on either of them. But with the merger set to close on November 1st, leaders in both organizations are confident they’ll only be better equipped to serve patients in South Dakota and beyond.
Or, as Randy Bury says: he looks forward to the next hundred years.