Sanford Health and Bemidji health systems merger official

The merger between Bemidji's North Country Health Services and the Sioux Falls and Fargo based Sanford Health becomes official today.

Bemidji's North Country Regional Hospital now becomes Sanford Bemidji Medical Center. The clinic, once operated by MeritCare of Fargo before that organization merged with Sanford, becomes Sanford Bemidji Clinic.

Bemidji now becomes the regional hub for a new organization called Sanford Health of Northern Minnesota.

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Local health administrators see the Sanford merger as an opportunity to grow. Plans are underway to expand into heart treatment, cancer, orthopedics, sports medicine and women's health. Officials also will focus on research and education.

As part of the affiliation, Sanford will invest $70 million in resources over the next 10 years. It will immediately make a $5 million gift to the North Country Health Services Foundation.

Supporters of the move say the influx of money will help bring the "best and the brightest" employees and physicians to the region.

Merging the clinic and hospital under one administration will also presumably make health care delivery more efficient.

Bemidji has become a regional hub for health care in northern Minnesota. The hospital has more than 900 employees. The clinic employs about 550.