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Sanford-Medcenter One merger closer to reality

BISMARCK (AP) -- Federal regulators have signed off on a proposed merger between Sanford Health and Medcenter One in the Dakotas.

The approval by the Federal Trade Commission means that the last remaining governmental review of the proposed merger rests with North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Sanford is based in Fargo and Sioux Falls, S.D. Medcenter One is based in the North Dakota capital of Bismarck. The two health systems announced in April that they had signed a letter of intent and a memorandum of understanding and were moving forward with merger discussions.

If a merger happens, it will be the biggest for Sanford since the then-Sioux Falls-based company combined with Fargo-based Meritcare in 2009. The resulting system, Sanford Health, has a presence in more than 100 communities in seven states and bills itself as the nation's largest not-for-profit rural health care provider.

Medcenter has a hospital in Bismarck and clinics in five North Dakota cities, including Dickinson. Spokeswoman Kim Singer said the FTC approval is "just another step in the entire process of a possible merger." But Jeff Sandene, chief operating officer for Sanford's Fargo region, said that if the state of North Dakota gives its OK, the merger likely will take place between August and October. State approval typically is routine after federal approval, he said.

If a merger is approved, Sanford will consider expanding air ambulance service to serve western North Dakota's booming Oil Patch, where trauma cases from the oil fields and increasing highway crashes are stressing emergency rooms.

"We'll help support a lot of the organizations that are out there," Sandene said.