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Kelby Krabbenhoft | President & CEO | Sanford Health | Insights Care

When vision, leadership and philanthropy combine, the result is improved health care and access.

That’s what happened for Sanford Health, a nonprofit health care system headquartered in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that has served the region for more than 120 years.

Kelby Krabbenhoft, the president and CEO, has an aggressive strategy for the growth of the health care system, and in 2007 that vision aligned with a $400 million donation from philanthropist and businessman Denny Sanford.

Sioux Falls Hospital was founded in 1894 and grew into the Sioux Valley Hospital and Health System, becoming one of two major health care providers serving southeastern South Dakota. After the donation, the name was changed to Sanford Health and the slogan of “Improving the Human Condition” was added, with a goal of integrating patient care, research and innovation.

Denny Sanford has given nearly $1 billion to the health system, helping it create several initiatives, including global children’s clinics, genomic medicine and a focus on curing Type 1 diabetes.

Sanford Health has more than 5.3 million clinic patient visits today. With 44 hospitals spread across nine states and nine countries, it employs more than 1,400 physicians. It offers a full line of clinics and hospitals, serving a population that covers the Upper Midwest. It provides everything in care, from trauma centers to prenatal care to sports and orthopedic medicine. The health system is combining with The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit senior care organization with over 200 locations nationwide. The combined organization will allow Sanford Health to have even deeper roots, caring for people across the spectrum of age and an even larger geographic area.

‘Leadership is Everything’

Krabbenhoft began his role at Sanford Health two decades ago, and he continues to empower his employees to provide the best health care possible across the Upper Midwest, with a mindset of authenticity, transparency, and pride in the culturally rural roots of the organization. That manifests in everything from wearing jeans and cowboy boots to news conferences, to allowing local horses to use part of the company’s property for summer pasture.

Nestled between two interstates, the bucolic corporate headquarters represent the health care system’s vision: health in the heartland.

When you empower your people to do the work they believe in, to take reasonable risks, to ask questions and seek answers, your business will be successful,” Krabbenhoft says. “In health care, something even more amazing follows: You improve the lives of families, of children, of communities and the world. Our legacy will be improving the human condition, one patient at a time.

Sanford Health awarded $1 million in 2018 in the inaugural Sanford Lorraine Cross Award, an honor that rewards breakthroughs in medical care and science. The award is named after the Lorraine Cross, which the health care system adopted in 1959, a symbol recognized around the world for those who take actions to express their passion. In recent history, Sanford Health has used it to symbolize innovation in health care.

Legacy of Learning

Sanford Health leaders believe that when you focus on people first, health and happiness follow. They carry that through both employee relations and patient care.

Sanford’s affiliation with the Good Samaritan Society, is expanding its footprint in 26 states and nearly doubling the size of its staff to 50,000 employees. This will allow the health care system to further integrate care to provide efficient and effective medicine and an excellent patient experience throughout the life span.

But Sanford Health also believes that research lays the foundation. Sanford Research employs nearly 300 people in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, allowing the system to bring solutions from the bench to the bedside. This allows patients in the Upper Midwest to have early access to life-saving cures through a robust clinical trial program, while also providing careers in medicine and science, which helps grow the local economy.

Additionally, Sanford regularly presents at the Unite to Cure Conference at Vatican City, Italy, to share its work with stem cells and regenerative medicine. To aid its particular focus on rare diseases, the company has launched the Coordination of Rare Diseases at Sanford (CoRDS), a free international patient registry that connects patients to researchers and advocacy groups in more than 7,000 rare diseases.

It’s all part of Sanford’s persistence and belief in the importance of completing tasks and also forging ahead.

There’s always something else on the horizon,” Krabbenhoft said. “We’ll never get there if we don’t complete what’s in front of us. At the same time, we have to execute this strategy and innovation while also managing day-to-day operations.

It’s like building a plane and flying it at the same time,” he said.

Strategic Growth

The integration of various businesses and practices has helped insulate Sanford Health from many threats in the industry. Sanford looks at all areas of care – from providing a health plan for the region to e-visits for rural residents to a commitment to clinical trials to bringing cutting-edge medicine to the heartland.

While some health care organizations have struggled financially, the organizations that thought ahead and diversified are doing better than expected,” Krabbenhoft said.

Sanford has had various benchmarks in the journey to success. These include merging with MeritCare in Fargo, North Dakota, in 2009; North Country Health Services of Bemidji, Minnesota, in 2011; Medcenter One in Bismarck, North Dakota, in 2012; and affiliating with the Good Samaritan Society in 2019. These mergers and affiliations have positioned Sanford Health as a leader in health care – both in terms of geography and innovation.

The strategy of the company is to be nimble enough to respond to the changing regulations and marketplaces, but be solid enough to weather change as it happens. This is its commitment, with a constant focus on the real reason it’s here: to improve the health of its patients and communities and, increasingly, the world.

There is no ‘easy button’ in health care,” Krabbenhoft says. “Success takes years of ditch digging.

Thinking Globally

Sanford Health has leveraged size and scale to make things more efficient and affordable for patients. The company is aiding its patients with a whole host of services that streamline care, from electronic medical records to video and e-visits to online check-ins and scheduling. It also offers walk-in for urgent care that lets people choose a time that’s most convenient.

But leaders know that without the right tools, people can’t succeed.

Sanford is investing millions in My Sanford Chart using the Epic system and is implementing its second electronic medical record system in Ghana. The company has a hope that this can make a difference in the quality of life for residents in Ghana. This is a part of its World Clinic initiative, which has its presence in nine countries.

Focusing on efficient technology allows employees to spend more time thinking about patients and less time worrying about process.

Sanford also encourages employees to share their ideas for problem-solving and innovation.

Our goal is always people – our employees, our patients and our communities,” Krabbenhoft said. “We want to help them and heal them, and we do that through talented physicians and nurses, research, innovation and cutting-edge practices.

Testimony to this is the Pro Patria Award from the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve Organization that it received, and the Secretary of Defense’s Employer Support Freedom Award. Sanford has also been a featured employer by Hire Heroes USA, in September 2018.

I’m excited about what’s ahead for us,” Krabbenhoft said. “We are all stronger together, and