Sanford Health, Intermountain Healthcare merger discussions halted

Sanford Health and Intermountain Healthcare have put merger discussions on ice.

In a release Friday, Intermountain Healthcare officials said Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based Sanford Health "indefinitely suspended conversations about a planned merger."

The decision came after the sudden departure of Sanford's longtime CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft. He stepped down after sparking controversy and grabbing national headlines after writing to workers in an email that he doesn't always wear a mask in public settings because he's had COVID-19 and assumes he's immune.

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The health system named Bill Gassen its new president and chief executive.

The announcement of Krabbenhoft's resignation came only a month after Sanford Health announced merger plans with Intermountain Healthcare. The two organizations said they expected the deal to close in 2021, pending federal and state approvals.

“With this leadership change, it’s an important time to refocus our efforts internally as we assess the future direction of our organization," Gassen said in a statement. "We continue to prioritize taking care of our patients, our people, and the communities we serve as we look to shape our path forward.”

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Intermountain Healthcare's president and CEO Marc Harrison, M.D., said the health system's officials were disappointed but understood why the recent leadership change influenced Sanford Health's priorities.

“There’s much to admire about the work that Sanford Health is doing. We continue to share a strong vision for the future of healthcare," he said in a statement.