Just this morning, Intermountain Healthcare and Sanford Health announced their intent to combine into a 70-hospital system with hospitals in 8 states and operations in 24. Their hospitals would operate in widely disconnected markets, but today’s mergers are about health plans and covered lives as much bricks and sticks – and their two combined health plans will cover 900,000 lives.

What the announcement terms a “merger” appears more like an Intermountain takeover. The HQ will stay in Salt Lake City where Intermountain’s Dr. Marc Harrison will have sole executive control. Meanwhile, Sanford’s Kelby Krabbenhoft will step down to become “president emeritus.”

That’s one giant leap from the lunar lander for Krabbenhoft, a successful leader whose powerful vision has permeated the organization he forged into one of the largest rural systems in the country. The turn of events appears even more remarkable in the wake of last year’s implosion of Sanford’s planned merger with UnityPoint (see our comments in Modern Healthcare), when Krabbenhoft publicly proclaimed that “the UnityPoint Health board failed to embrace the vision.”

The epic leap up the evolutionary ladder belongs to Intermountain. Its talented team has dominated the Utah market and recently led a collaboration with systems across the country for provider-based development of generic drugs. In the hospital space, however, Intermountain has only tiptoed across its own state line. While its beachhead in southeastern Idaho continues to thrive, the system has closed or sold at least two of its I-15 corridor hospitals up there over the past few decades. Expanding into a multi-state system would mark an evolutionary shift, indeed.

With a potential clash of executive egos apparently out of the way, this deal has a better chance of getting done than the last one Sanford announced. Next challenge is the successful operation of its geographically disconnected markets. Stay tuned.

Joe Lupica, jlupica@newpointhealth.com

Peggy Altamura, paltamura@newpointhealth.com