Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
An influential new state task force has a daunting charge: ensuring the University of Minnesota will provide "Nation-Leading Health Professions Education" for decades to come. On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz announced its membership roster.
It's a solid mix of health care providers, educators and industry leaders, but it lacks a crucial perspective. Walz's appointees are an all-Minnesota crew. Given the complexities of the task force's assignment, it would have been helpful to have at least one member from outside the state with deep expertise in university medical centers.
That member would have had fresh points of view and valuable knowledge about innovations elsewhere that might also work in Minnesota. In a previous editorial, the Star Tribune Editorial Board recommended Dr. Paul Rothman, former dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and former CEO of Johns Hopkins health care system.
The task force can remedy this, however, by tapping a consultant with experience like Rothman's. Walz should ensure that Jan Malcolm, the former health commissioner who will lead the group, has the resources and authority necessary to take this step. The governor should also encourage the group to tackle all questions members find relevant.
The 10 new appointees include well-known Minnesota medical leaders like Dr. Penny Wheeler, who formerly led Allina and now serves on the U's Board of Regents, and Dr. David Herman, who currently leads northern Minnesota's Essentia Health and brings valuable experience from the southern Minnesota. Herman previously served on Mayo Clinic's management team, giving him welcome expertise in academic health center operations.
Appointees also include Connie Delaney, dean of the University of Minnesota's nursing school; Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the U's medical school; Barbara Joers, president and CEO of Gillette Children's; Dr. Julia Joseph-Di Caprio, who founded Leap Pediatric and Adolescent Care and previously served as a UCare senior vice president and medical officer.
It's a well-rounded group, one that also includes several legislators and two former governors — Mark Dayton and Tim Pawlenty — serving as special advisers. Tapping this duo makes sense. They're knowledgeable and passionate about the state's health care needs and can be influential advocates for whatever recommendations the task force comes up with, some of which may require both buy-in and dollars from state legislators.
Two legislators will serve as well — Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Health and state Office of Higher Education will have representatives.
The first meeting is scheduled in early October, with a recommendations due in January. That's a tight deadline, one likely imposed with the start of the 2024 legislative session in mind. The time frame is particularly challenging given differing expectations, particularly within Minnesota's health care community, about the task force's mission.
Walz announced the panel's formation last month, soon after the collapse of a proposed merger between Twin Cities-based Fairview and South Dakota's Sanford Health. The deal was controversial because had it gone through, Sanford, an out-of-state entity, would have controlled the University of Minnesota's medical center. The reason: Fairview acquired the U's teaching hospitals in 1997.
The proposed deal also generated acrimony between the U and Fairview's leaders. That, along with Fairview's financial losses, raised understandable questions about whether the U should extend its operating agreement with Fairview or consider a new path forward with a different partner or partnerships.
Yet it doesn't appear that that the task force will tackle this question. According to Malcolm, the task force "isn't really there to answer the question of what happens to that specific relationship."
Instead, she said, the focus "is very much on the health sciences training mission of the U, definitely understanding that this is very much affected by the clinical practice and research enterprise."
This is frustrating because the U trains over 70% of the state's doctors. Providing clinical and hospital experience is a critical component of medical students' education, which is why the U needs a close relationship with a hospital system or systems. How do you make broad medical training recommendations without first ensuring this foundation is strong?
Not taking up this issue also seems to be a departure from Walz's executive order establishing the task force. It reads: "Recent trends in the health care market have driven a need to reexamine the funding and governance structures for the delivery of academic health by the University of Minnesota." How does that not include weighing whether Fairview is the best partner for the U going forward?
The new task force has a talented roster. Members should jettison unhelpful limits on the group and feel fully empowered to recommend new arrangements if they conclude there's a better way to ensure high-quality academic medicine in Minnesota.
Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson, Patricia Lopez, John Rash and D.J. Tice. 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.