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Residents to MeritCare: Engage public

FARGO, N.D. -- Citizens for MeritCare had lots of advice and one key question for the Fargo-based health system as it negotiates a possible merger: What's the rush?

The call for MeritCare to slow down and actively engage the public in its merger deliberations came from two former board members of the health system: Bruce Furness, former Fargo mayor, and Jane Sinner, former North Dakota first lady.

Both insisted they aren't trying to block a merger with Sanford Health, a large health system based in Sioux Falls, S.D., but said MeritCare is a "nonprofit, quasi-public" organization that has a duty to involve the public.

"They need to get input from the public because they are a public organization," Furness said, adding the community and region have invested heavily in MeritCare.

Others in the citizens group are former MeritCare trustees or economic development board members.

"We're not trying to derail this train," Furness said. "We're trying to slow that train down."

Sinner picked up on the fast-moving train comparison.

"We really need to see what's on the train," she said. "We need to see what's in the proposals and how it's going to affect the community."

Dr. Roger Gilbertson, MeritCare's president and CEO, said more details will be made public when a letter of intent is reached with Sanford.

"We have an important story to tell about how this potential merger can improve health and benefit the communities we serve," Gilbertson said in a statement. "At this point the community's interests are well represented by our board trustees; we have great faith in their leadership."

There is no timetable for reaching a letter of intent,

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