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City signs over WRH to Sanford

WORTHINGTON -- A hush fell over the boardroom at Worthington Regional Hospital Wednesday afternoon as officials bent their heads to the task at hand -- the signing of the documents finalizing the sale of the city-owned hospital to Sanford Health of Sioux Falls, S.D. The sale becomes final on Monday, and WRH will officially become a Sanford facility Tuesday.

Present for the document-signing ceremony were legal counsels for both entities, Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh, City Clerk Janice Oberloh, WRH Board of Trustees Chairman David Jueneman, Sanford Health Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Becky Nelson and Sanford Health Network President Ed Weiland. Watching from the wings were other Sanford officials, Worthington City Council members and staff, current WRH Chief Executive Officer Mel Platt and WRH department heads.

Sanford Health first presented its initial purchase proposal to the WRH Board of Trustees on Nov. 19, 2007, although the WRH board had been discussing such a possibility in strategic planning sessions for more than two years due to declining inpatient census and the financial impact of contractual allowances and write-offs. During a standing-room-only community meeting on Dec. 3, 2007, members of the public -- and Avera Worthington Specialty Clinics staff in particular -- voiced their concerns about selling the hospital to Sanford. Despite those objections and after much deliberation and weighing the options, the city council voted to sell the medical facility Jan. 7 in front of a public forum.

The city will receive $21 million from Sanford for the hospital, plus additional monetary considerations for Southwest Minnesota Radiation Center, making the overall impact of the sale close to $30 million. In addition, Sanford agreed to continue all employee positions, pay, tenure and benefits, with legislation sought for Public Employee Retirement Association funds; continue an open medical staff policy; and retain the same scope of services at WRH.

Following Wednesday's ceremony, Oberloh expressed regret that the era of a municipal hospital had to come to an end, but also his belief that Sanford would live up to its promises and usher in a new era of expanded services for the people of southwest Minnesota.

"We've had assurances since we started this that Sanford has big plans for the hospital and the greater community," he said. "I assume that they're going to hit the ground running and build this into even more of a regional health-care facility."

Nelson and Weiland noted that Lynn Olson, the new CEO for what will now be known as Sanford Regional Hospital Worthington, would be instrumental in leading the hospital into this new era of health care in Worthington. Platt is retiring, effective with the hospital sale.

"It will be an opportunity to take a new and fresh look at what these opportunities are that exist as part of this acquisition," Weiland said.

"We've been meeting with the medical staff on a regular basis and will continue to do so to look to the future, plan together and plan effectively," Nelson added.

A community celebration of the sale -- to "honor the past and celebrate the future" -- will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Pioneer Village in Worthington. The free event will include a brief program at 4:30 p.m., as well as family activities, inflatable games, food and music.

Nelson and Weiland will both be on hand, along with other officials from Sanford.

"We're going to be there to celebrate our new family and the staff that has been so supportive and provided care to the patients at Worthington Regional Hospital and look forward to continuing that for many years to come," said Nelson. "We want to celebrate their commitment and dedication to the hospital and the community."

"We want to invite the community to join us," Weiland emphasized.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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