Healing the Upper Midwest

  • Medicine & Health
  • 2007

The business triumphs of Denny Sanford allowed him to retire to Florida at age 45—but he was soon itchy and returned to the upper Midwest where he had spent his entire previous life. After further commercial successes, he started giving away money.

Having lost both of his parents to illness a few years after he was born, his philanthropic passion was medicine. He turned his attention to the Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, beginning with a $16 million gift for a children’s hospital designed like a fairy castle. With his $400 million donation in 2007 (the largest single gift ever made to a U.S. health-care organization), the nonprofit was renamed Sanford Health. Sanford Health now includes nearly three dozen hospitals and more than 140 clinics, centered on South and North Dakota but spread across eight states, making it one of the largest rural, not-for-profit health systems in the nation. After the latest in Denny Sanford’s string of gifts to the health system—a $125 million donation made in 2014 that launched new efforts to tailor patient care using genetic information—his total contributions to Sanford Health exceeded $800 million.

In Fargo, Sanford Health is in the midst of one of the largest construction projects in the history of the Dakotas. The result will be a top-shelf medical facility filled with the best technology and some of the brightest medical experts in the country. It will bring a new level of care to the region, including a major trauma center, enhanced pediatric services, a heart center, an expanded cancer center, and new services in areas such as eating disorders and rehabilitation.

Sanford has also made massive medical-research donations in the San Diego area. (See 2013 entry.) A signatory of the Gates-Buffett Giving Pledge, Sanford says he aims to “die broke.” That day comes a little closer with each subsequent gift, with Sanford’s lifetime philanthropic giving having roared past the $1 billion mark in 2013.

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