The University of Minnesota and Fairview Health have adopted a new clinical brand, M Health Fairview, in an effort to move on from years of confusion and finger-pointing between the organizations and hasten their delivery of high-level medical care statewide.
The new name, launched Tuesday, is part of an alliance that aims to provide Fairview’s hospitals, clinics and patients with easier access to the U’s advanced expertise in areas such as cancer and to its clinical trials. That’s expected to draw more patients and revenue, which will generate millions of dollars to expand university medical research. Fairview has committed at least $40 million in revenue per year to U research under the deal, an increase from $9 million under their prior agreement.
One M Health Fairview leader described the deal as a moral imperative rather than a financial one. Dr. Jakub Tolar, dean of the U’s Medical School and vice president for clinical affairs, cited research showing that a rural cancer patient with less access to specialized medical care has a much worse chance at recovery than an identical metro patient.
“That’s unacceptable,” he said. “That’s unbelievably wrong. That’s social-justice wrong.”
Brand marketing will start this week, including for HealthEast hospitals and clinics, which merged with Fairview in 2017. Signs will be replaced this fall throughout the system, bringing a new identity to facilities as diverse as Fairview’s Southdale and Northland hospitals, in Edina and Princeton respectively, and HealthEast’s St. Joseph’s Hospital in downtown St. Paul.
“We’re flying one flag,” said James Hereford, Fairview’s chief executive. “The HealthEast brand has now gone away.”
Fairview and the U have had a co-dependent but strained relationship tracing back to 1997, when Fairview acquired the financially struggling university hospital from the state — renaming it Fairview University Medical Center, and then University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview.
In 2013, Fairview considered both a merger with South Dakota-based Sanford Health, and a takeover proposal by the university. Then in 2015, the partners announced a plan to launch the M Health brand that would eliminate the Fairview name.
Tolar also is board chairman for M Physicians, a multispecialty practice of 1,200 doctors and medical school faculty that has been a key player in the success or failure of prior merger and partnership talks. While these academic physicians have made extraordinary individual achievements in research and clinical care, the deal will require them to be more focused on cooperative efforts to improve health care in Minnesota, Tolar said.
The current thinking is that “flashes of brilliance are considered the endpoint,” he said, “and the truth is they’re not.”
Hereford said the deal should reduce costs for patients, in part by eliminating redundant billing and administrative expenses, and focus the organizations on improving care. He predicted more investments in areas of clinical and research strength for the university, including cancer care and neurology, and more care provided in clinics and home settings rather than hospitals.
The arrangement is similar to academic medical partnerships at Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco, Hereford said. While Fairview is making an unprecedented commitment of research dollars to the university, Hereford said it is reasonable based on the number of patients it should gain with the U brand and expertise.
“The basis of that growth is that we’ll be able to offer advanced treatments and advanced capabilities that others can’t,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that synergistic cycle won’t work.”