Sanford Health CEO steps down after sparking controversy for not wearing mask

Longtime Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft is stepping down after sparking controversy for refusing to wear a mask.

Tuesday evening, Sanford announced Krabbenhoft "mutually agreed" with the board of trustees to part ways with the health system. 

Krabbenhoft prompted anger among employees and grabbed national headlines after writing to workers in an email that he doesn't always wear a mask in public settings because he's had the virus and assumes he's immune.

Bill Gassen (Sanford Health)

He defended his reasoning in an interview with the Argus Leader last week, but the health system distanced itself from his comments in a statement released Friday, the newspaper reported.

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The health system named Bill Gassen its new president and chief executive. Gassen has been with Sanford since 2012, most recently serving as chief administrative officer. The role is effective immediately.

Krabbenhoft took the role of president and CEO in 1996. During his tenure, the organization grew from a community hospital into the largest rural nonprofit health system with a presence in 26 states and 10 countries, officials said.

“Kelby’s impact on the organization and the communities it serves will be felt for generations to come,” Brent Teiken, board chairman, said in a statement.

The announcement comes a month after Sanford Health announced merger plans with Intermountain Healthcare. The two organizations said they signed a letter of intent to develop a strategic partnership. They expect the deal to close in 2021, pending federal and state approvals.