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Name acclaim: Sanford Health celebrates merger

The area's biggest name in health care just got smaller as Sanford Health & MeritCare simplified its name to Sanford Health.

The name change, celebrated Tuesday, is intended to help unify an organization with $2.25 billion in annual revenues and 20,000 employees serving parts of five states.

The health system's namesake benefactor, Denny Sanford, was on hand for the occasion, which introduced a new sign at the former MeritCare Medical Center in Fargo, with blue replacing magenta as the signature color.

"This is an honor, truly," Sanford said in remarks that recalled his younger days working for two summers on a railroad signal crew in North Dakota.

Sanford, who donated $400 million in 2007 to what was the Sioux Valley Health System based in Sioux Falls, S.D., said last November's merger of the two health systems has produced a single organization with a national reputation and a global reach.

"Combination of these two organizations I look at as one plus one equals at least three," he told a crowd gathered on the north lawn of the downtown medical complex, now called Sanford Medical Center Fargo.

Recalling the day the merger was completed last fall, the wealthy businessman-turned-philanthropist said: "That was the proudest day of my life. Today I am doubly proud."

Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford Health's chief executive, dropped hints of big things to come.

In addition to the planned $300 million medical center near Interstate 94 in southwest Fargo and the recently announced fitness and performance athletics centers, more initiatives appear imminent:

- Sanford's Roger Maris Cancer Center, which has outgrown its space, will become a name in cancer treatment beyond Fargo. The center is named after the late Roger Maris, a Fargo native and former New York Yankees homerun slugger.

"The almost legendary reputation of not only the man but the cancer center is very meaningful to this region," Krabbenhoft said. He added: "Mr. Sanford has ideas about cancer and the potential of something new that we're working on behind the scenes."

- Sanford will strengthen ties with the University of North Dakota, among academic partnerships that also will include North Dakota State University and Concordia College.

In Sioux Falls, the Sanford/USD Medical Center has a partnership with the University of South Dakota School of Medicine.

Later, Dennis Millirons, president of Sanford Medical Center Fargo, issued a statement about developing a "shared vision for the future" with UND, noting it already includes 32 residents and 28 medical students in the center's teaching programs.

"That vision will be based on traditions, and include investments that will enhance the mission of the university, and our relationship," Millirons said.

- A partnership with Orthopaedic Associates appears to be nearing agreement, but any announcement would come from Orthopaedic Associates. A merger would create a group of about 50 orthopedic surgeons.

Sanford expects to spend $3 million changing signs over the next two years. Since the merger, the health system has added 500 employees.

Dr. Roger Gilbertson, the retired chief executive of MeritCare before the merger, attended Tuesday's festivities. Gilbertson had been instrumental in the merger in the 1990s of St. Luke's Hospitals and Fargo Clinic, which resulted in the formation of MeritCare Health System.

"I think the name change is a critical thing for any two organizations coming together," he said. "I think the Sanford name is appropriate."