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Sanford Health has joined a group of American hospitals that, in response to high drug prices and shortages, have formed a generic nonprofit drug company called Civica Rx.

Twelve health systems, including Sanford Health, have joined the venture, which was announced last year. They are now combined with seven other large health systems that collectively represent about 750 hospitals, according to a news release from Civica Rx on Monday.

"Drug shortages have become a national crisis where patient treatments and surgeries are canceled, delayed or suboptimal," Martin VanTrieste, CEO of Civica Rx, said in the release. "We thank these organizations for joining us to make essential generic medicines accessible and affordable in hospitals across the country."

Civica Rx plans to bring more than 14 generic drugs to hospitals, which the company will either manufacture themselves or subcontract with "trusted" supply partners, according to the release.

Greg Fritz, pharmacy supervisor at Sanford Health in Bismarck, said there have been challenges with "getting a decent supply" of some generic medications, and the hospital has observed drug prices skyrocket.

But more than just the cost of the drug, shortages have increased costs in terms of staff time, according to Fritz.

"We spend a lot of time and energy here just getting some drugs for our patients, and if we can get (Civica Rx) going and get a decent supply, it will free up time for us to actually take care of our patients instead of sitting on a phone with manufacturers or wholesalers, trying to obtain medications," he said.

It's not clear which drugs Civica Rx will provide, but the company said the drugs will be supply supplied to hospitals sometime this year. Fritz said he anticipates the drugs will include pain and cardiac medications, as well as electrolyte fluids — all of which the hospital has had issues with obtaining.

The formation of Civica Rx is also expected to result in lower drug costs for hospitals and patients.

"When we get a medication and if it's cheaper, we pass that savings on to our patients," Fritz said.

Other hospitals that have joined Civica Rx include Catholic Health Initiatives, the parent organization affiliated with Bismarck's CHI St. Alexius Health, HCA Healthcare, Intermountain Healthcare, Providence St. Joseph, Mayo Clinic, SSM Health and Trinity Health. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will also work in consultation with Civica Rx.

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(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter