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Sanford Health cuts ties with longtime CEO after he said he wouldn't wear a mask

In a recently announced merger with the larger Intermountain system, CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft was to serve as president emeritus.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

Photo courtesy of Sanford HealthPhoto courtesy of Sanford Health

Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health and its longtime President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft have parted ways after a controversial email from Krabbenhoft alerted his staff that he wouldn't wear a mask because he'd already had COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the health system announced it was mutually parting ways with Krabbenhoft. It then said that Bill Gassen was appointed president and CEO of Sanford Health. Gassen has been with the organization since 2012 and most recently served as chief administrative officer.

Sanford Health did not give a reason for a parting of the ways, not mentioning the mask controversy in its statement.

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For his part, Krabbenhoft said that now was a "good time to say goodbye," according to a statement obtained by Dakota News Now.

WHY THIS MATTERS

In the email, Krabbenhoft said that "for me to wear a mask defies the efficacy and purpose of a mask and sends an untruthful message that I am susceptible to infection or could transmit it. I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture."

He cited "growing evidence" that once someone contracts COVID-19, they become immune to it.

Following his remarks, Sanford Health issued a series of tweets disputing the email.

"Kelby Krabbenhoft's email was based on his own experience with COVID-19 and his personal opinions about the virus," Sanford Health said on Twitter. "They do not reflect the views of our health system as a whole. Sanford Health's position is the same as it has always been – consistently wearing masks, avoiding crowds and staying home if you're sick are critical to preventing the spread of the virus. It is important to follow CDC guidelines."

There have been cases of COVID-19 reinfection, although they are rare, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC recommends that people wear masks, social distance and practice good hygiene regardless of past infections.

THE LARGER TREND

South Dakota has the fourth-highest rate of COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC. Over the last week, it had a rate of 122.6 cases per 100,000 people, a figure beat only by New Mexico, Wyoming and North Dakota.

Just last month, Sanford Health signed a letter of intent to merge with Intermountain Healthcare. The two health systems plan to bring their organizations together under one system to expand access to value-based care, they said in a statement.

Dr. Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare, will be the president and CEO of the combined organization. Krabbenhoft was to serve as president emeritus.

Intermountain Healthcare is an integrated not-for-profit health system that has a team of more than 41,000 caregivers. Sanford Health is made up of 48,000 employees spanning 24 states.

ON THE RECORD

"Bill [Gassen] is the right person to lead Sanford Health through these unprecedented times because of his substantial experience with many aspects of the organization and his deep commitment to our workforce," said Brent Teiken, the board chair at Sanford Health. "We're extremely optimistic about having his steady hand at the wheel in partnership with our existing leadership team."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
Email the writer: mhackett@himss.org