DULUTH – Nurses are pushing back on Essentia Health's planned acquisition of two dozen Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI) hospitals and other facilities in Minnesota and North Dakota, saying the Duluth-based health system has not provided any guarantees over workforce levels, contracts and patient care.

"Staffing at our hospital is already really thin. Nurses are worried about keeping our contracts and positions," said Cameron Sharp, an emergency room nurse at CHI St. Gabriel's in Little Falls, during a Minnesota Nurses Association news conference on Thursday. "Before our merger is done we're asking Essentia to commit to providing for our patients and not asking them to drive further for care."

The union this week delivered a petition signed by nearly 700 people with concerns that the acquisition "will result in less access to patient care, not more."

"We need them to answer these questions," said Leslie McKamey, an emergency-room nurse at CHI St. Alexius Health hospital in Bismarck, N.D. "Nurses in Bismarck are more anxious than ever over this takeover."

Included in the acquisition, which was scheduled to be completed this summer, are CHI St. Alexius and related clinics and hospitals around North Dakota, plus CHI facilities in Baudette, Breckenridge, Park Rapids and Little Falls.

Essentia said in a statement Thursday the company "has a proven track record of providing comprehensive, integrated care in rural communities."

"If an agreement is reached with CommonSpirit Health, we believe it may expand employment opportunities for our colleagues across our entire system," the health system said, without specifically responding to the Minnesota Nurses Association's concerns.

The merger was announced in January after Chicago-based CommonSpirit and Essentia signed a letter of intent.

CommonSpirit is the nation's largest Catholic health system and was formed when CHI merged with Dignity Health in 2019. The system had nearly $30 billion in revenue in its last fiscal year and has locations in 21 states.

The costs involved in the merger have not been disclosed, and the timing remains uncertain, with Essentia saying Thursday "when we have more to share publicly, we'll reach out."

Essentia is Duluth's largest employer and has more than $2 billion in annual revenue. Last year the nonprofit took control of the Moose Lake hospital, which has caused frustration among some employees.

"We have not had enough staff to care for the patients we have now," said registered nurse Tristin Eastvold. "This is after Moose Lake was promised Essentia taking over would be a good move for our community."

Essentia said it offered jobs to all "direct patient-care staff who met our basic requirements."

"A small number of nurses represented by the MNA chose not to apply or voluntarily left Essentia after affiliation. We are actively recruiting to fill those positions."

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496