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Sanford-MeritCare merger on track, but won't make Oct. 1 deadline

FARGO -- The planned merger of MeritCare and Sanford won't meet the health systems' original Oct. 1 deadline for approval by both organizations' boards, but the prospective partners now expect to complete the merger by November.

The North Dakota Attorney General's Office is still reviewing the proposed deal, and "due diligence" teams representing both organizations continue their work, MeritCare spokesman Darren Huber said Tuesday.

"We hope the merger will be complete in November," he said. "Everything is on track."

Once united, the Sanford-MeritCare service area will cover roughly 100,000 square miles, with a population of almost 1 million in parts of five states.

MeritCare, based in Fargo, covers much of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. Sanford, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., covers much of eastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, as well as parts of Iowa and Nebraska.

Because MeritCare is a nonprofit, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem must approve the proposed merger. Sanford also is a nonprofit.

"There's nothing new to report," Stenehjem's spokeswoman, Liz Brocker said. "We're still reviewing the application."

Stenehjem has 90 days to review the merger, meaning he has until early November, assuming he does not extend the standard review period.

Sanford Health also is seeking approval to sell its health insurance packages, the Sanford Plan, in North Dakota. They hope to have coverage in place for employers by Jan. 1.

Administrators of the two health systems have been meeting regularly as they work to combine two large organizations, each with more than $1 billion in annual revenues.

Among other facets, leaders of both organizations are trying to identify the strengths each would bring to the union, with strategies for will be outside our current MeritCare facilities," where space already is preserving the best that each has to offer.

"There's a lot of thought and work being done on that right now," Huber said.

Sanford-MeritCare will have corporate offices in both Fargo and Sioux Falls. No final decision has been made on the Fargo location, Huber said.

"We continue to look for space in downtown Fargo," he said. "The location scarce.