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Other Opinions: Sanford hospital harbinger of new era

When an expansion project as large as Sanford Health's new hospital in Fargo got under way, rumors were sure to fly. The scuttlebutt ranged from the project has been stalled to hundreds of layoffs are in the offing to the downtown campus will be shuttered.

None is true.

Meeting with The Forum Editorial Board a few days ago, Sanford executives provided a comprehensive update on the ambitious undertaking. After a nearly two-hour session that was punctuated by questions from reporters and editors -- and upfront answers from the Sanford team -- the conclusion was clear: The estimated $500 million project is not only on track and on time but also the building's plan has been refined to be better and less expensive.

The state-of-the-art hospital building and associated facilities that will rise out of the ground near the junction of Veterans Boulevard and Interstate 94 will be one of the most impressive and efficient health care facilities in the nation. Combined with Sanford's commitment to the downtown campus, the merger with Medcenter One in Bismarck and various partnerships throughout the vast region from northwest Minnesota to the Montana border, Sanford is emerging as the premier health care provider on the northern plains.

But it's not just about the size of Sanford's footprint. More importantly, it's about improved service to patients. Sanford executives said its Fargo region has experienced a 15 percent growth in demand, which is more than triple typical rates of growth across the nation. One reason is an aging (and growing) population. Elderly people use more medical services. Also contributing to Sanford's growth is the addition of medical services and procedures previously not available in Fargo. Patients who need specialized care often had to travel elsewhere to get it. As Sanford adds more specialties, cutting-edge procedures and level one emergency service, those patients will be served closer to home -- thus, growth in demand.

It's an exciting time for health care in Fargo-Moorhead, and Sanford is a big reason for the excitement. The company's commitment here is more than big numbers. It's an indication of Sanford's faith in the future of the communities of the Red River Valley region. Given other local factors - biomedical research, medical education, university support, sports medicine -- Fargo-Moorhead is well on its way to becoming one of the nation's significant health care centers. -- The Forum