Sanford Health, VA partnership improves veterans’ services

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 12, 2019 – Sanford Health and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have announced a partnership that helps veterans’ care by providing pharmacogenetic testing to U.S. veterans at no cost to veterans or taxpayers.

The donor-funded program will initially enroll cancer survivors as part of an agreement to improve patient care and lower costs. By 2022, it will expand to up to 250,000 U.S. veterans at 125 sites after launching in 2019 in Durham, North Carolina.

The testing program, PHASER (Pharmacogenomics Action for Cancer Survivorship), is funded by a $25 million gift from philanthropist Denny Sanford and a matching fundraising effort from Sanford Health. The test can help determine which medications will be most effective, improving patient access to appropriate treatments and reducing adverse reactions. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows negative drug reactions cost up to $30 billion per year.

Critical to veterans’ care

“The pharmacogenetic testing that we are going to be using as a result of Mr. Sanford’s generosity is critical for our nation’s veterans,” Veterans Administration Secretary Robert Wilkie told a news conference at The National Press Club.

“We can use what we learn with this research to best treat all veterans, 9.5 million, who receive their care through the VA.”

Watch highlights from the Sanford Health and Veterans Affairs announcement.

‘Natural way … to give back’

Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft lauded the South Dakota-based health care system’s partnership with the VA. “Bringing public and private entities together is a gauntlet, and we need to provide trust. Leadership at the VA made promises and kept them, and so did Sanford Health. We can do it together.”

Krabbenhoft also gave credit to Denny Sanford for making the partnership and many endeavors at Sanford Health possible. He’s given nearly $1 billion in donations and because of his desire to do something significant. “Thank God a living and walking legend is sitting next to me today,” he said.

“We will be forever grateful for what you’ve done, and that will be your legacy,” Krabbenhoft told Sanford.

Veterans are important to Sanford Health, Krabbenhoft emphasized, and to Denny Sanford, who spent eight years in the Air Reserves. “We recognize that our patients who are veterans are coming to us with something special on their mind and in their experiences,” Krabbenhoft said.

“This is a natural way for all of us at Sanford Health to give back.”

Offering veterans advanced health care

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, a veterans advocate, also expressed gratitude to the VA, Denny Sanford and Sanford Health.  “We should honor and respect our veterans,” he said, noting this program helps fulfill a promise for giving veterans the best health care.

Deepak Voora, M.D., of the Duke University School of Medicine will direct the PHASER Program.

“As a physician, it’s hard to predict exactly how a patient will respond to a medicine,” Voora said. Pharmacogenetic testing program can indicate how patients might respond to medications before they take them.

“Until now, this type of specialized testing has been largely out of reach for our veterans,” he said.

Local access

Veterans will access the test at their local VA center, and Sanford Health will process the tests at its South Dakota-based Imagenetics facility. The results will help with decision-making for treatments that include pain management, mental health issues and cardiovascular diseases.

Sanford Imagenetics began in 2014 thanks to a $125 million gift from Denny Sanford. More than 90 percent of patients who have had pharmacogenetic testing carry a genetic change that could affect their medications. Physicians get the results through the electronic medical record.

The PHASER program also will eventually support genetic counseling for patients.

Learn more about PHASER and genetic testing for veterans.

More on how Sanford Health helps veterans