Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


One of Minnesota's most recent health care accolades deserves more fanfare than it initially received.

Late last fall, federal officials announced that Minnesota MedTech 3.0, a consortium led by the Greater MSP economic development group, has been named as one of 31 "tech hubs" across the nation. The designation formally recognizes the state's enviable confluence of medical technology firms and world-class medical providers. It also comes with eligibility to apply for millions in federal funding to harness technology to meet evolving health needs and supercharge economic growth.

Greater MSP, its partners and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who energetically advocated for the designation, merit commendation for their good work. Artificial intelligence and other advances are already fueling rapid changes in medicine. The MedTech plan is an excellent example of the big-picture strategizing that will yield dividends far into the future.

The need for an ambitious strategy doesn't end there, however. In fact, the recognition should spark more focus, particularly from Gov. Tim Walz and the Legislature.

They must recognize that having an academic medical center that leverages research, education and clinical care with a priority on serving the state is a core component of the health care ecosystem that enabled Minnesota to compete successfully for honors like the Tech Hub designation. Although Minnesota is fortunate to have two world-class medical centers — Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities — only one of them has a purely public mission and trains 70% of the state's practicing physicians.

That's the U. The governor and legislators need to start the work now — not next year — on ensuring that the U's medical center is in the right hands and has the resources it needs to carry out its vital role in Minnesota's future.

The well-covered tension over the past 15 months between the U and Fairview, its current partner, has made clear that this vital medical center is at a crossroads. This often uneasy partnership has been in place since 1997, when ownership of the U's teaching hospital transferred to Fairview. A controversial effort in late 2022 by Fairview to merge with Sanford, a private, out-of-state health care system, led to a laudable push by the U to reacquire the medical center and sharpen its focus on meeting Minnesota needs.

To be successful, this effort will require legislative support and almost certainly additional funding to ensure the enterprise can thrive and meet the daunting expectations of its role in the state's future.

About a week ago, the U's Board of Regents approved a nonbinding letter of intent to repurchase the medical center, with the deal to close by the end of 2027, the Star Tribune reported.

It's too soon to comment on key terms of the deal because they're still being worked out. It's not clear what the purchase price would be, for example. This is not a done deal yet, and the Star Tribune Editorial Board is especially concerned about the amount of debt the U could be asked to take on as part of any agreement.

Still, it's good that the U and Fairview are working together. That's progress from the acrimony generated from the proposed Sanford merger. The letter of intent is a positive step, and its framework eventually will yield details on what it would take to close the deal and what resources the U would need.

Legislators need to embrace their role in the medical center's future. That should start with a thorough reading of a recently released report from a gubernatorial task force on "academic health professions education." The task force did not make specific recommendations regarding a deal between the U and Fairview. Nor did it sign off on whether a new medical center should be built as the U has proposed.

But the report does acknowledge the vital role the U's academic health programs play in Minnesota and states that a "new vision" is needed and that the task force is "broadly supportive of increased support for the important role of academic health" within the state's health care framework. The task force's findings offer a solid foundation for lawmakers to begin their work.

Legislators should signal their support for the direction outlined in the letter of intent by putting some planning money for a new hospital into the bonding bill. Leaders should also appoint a legislative subcommittee or study commission — just legislators this time, so as not to duplicate the gubernatorial task force — to come up with a proposal for an ongoing, dedicated funding stream for academic medicine at the U that could be enacted in 2025.

Lawmakers have signaled a more cautious agenda for 2024 after an ambitious 2023 session. That's not a valid excuse for inaction. The U's medical center is one of the state's premier assets, and it's at a critical juncture. The time is now to chart a course for its future.

Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson and John Rash. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune CEO and Publisher Steve Grove serves as an adviser to the board.