More than 60 people have applied so far to serve on a state task force focused on the future of health science programs, including the medical school, at the University of Minnesota.

Gov. Tim Walz created the task force via executive order last month.

The list of applicants includes several executives with experience running big Minnesota health systems such as Dr. Penny Wheeler, former Allina Health CEO, as well as two other physicians, David Herman and Kenneth Holman, the chief executives at Duluth-based Essentia Health and St. Cloud-based CentraCare, respectively.

Other applicants include: former UnitedHealth Group executive Lois Quam; former state Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson; and Dr. Mark Steffen, the chief medical officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

A number of locally prominent health policy experts have applied, as well.

Wheeler, who is now a member of the U's Board of Regents, highlighted the importance of the task force during a Thursday meeting of a special Regents committee overseeing the University's academic medical enterprise and clinical partnerships.

"It speaks to the salience of this for the entire state that the governor had this executive order," Wheeler said. "We as the University are grateful to the legislative leaders and the governor for doing so, because of its importance."

Walz said the task force on academic health at the U would develop recommendations to support world-class health professions education, research and care delivery. A final report is due by mid-January.

The task force will work amid uncertainty about whether the U and Minneapolis-based Fairview Health Services will extend their long-term partnership on academic health care.

In 1997, Fairview acquired the University of Minnesota Medical Center; the health system and the U jointly market health care services under the M Health Fairview brand. The relationship has been strained, however, by financial challenges as well as the recently abandoned plan for Fairview to merge with South Dakota-based Sanford Health.

Walz's announcement of the task force did not mention Fairview or Sanford Health. The group should consider collaborative financial support and partnership models for academic health at the U, the executive order states, as well as "potential options for governance and oversight of any publicly funded health professions education."

On Thursday, Wheeler chaired the first meeting of the new Regents oversight committee for academic medical and clinical partnerships. The session included a presentation from Holman of CentraCare about a proposed U medical school campus in St. Cloud, but no agenda items about Fairview.

"It's a primary partnership," Wheeler said of Fairview after the meeting. The special committee is looking at "how do we form the most productive partnerships going forward, that one being included."

Asked if Fairview will participate in future meetings, Wheeler said: "I would imagine that would be likely."

Fairview chief executive James Hereford is not among the applicants for the Walz task force.