Longtime Sanford Health CEO Exits After Mask-Wearing Comments
Sanford operates a hospital in Bemidji and a number of clinics in western Minnesota Sanford Health

Longtime Sanford Health CEO Exits After Mask-Wearing Comments

Kelby Krabbenhoft’s departure comes amid the system’s attempt to merge with a Utah-based hospital group.
Sanford operates a hospital in Bemidji and a number of clinics in western Minnesota Sanford Health

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Sanford Health, a major Midwest health system with significant operations in western Minnesota, on Tuesday announced that it is “parting ways” with longtime president and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft.

The news comes after Krabbenhoft made national headlines for calling mask-wearing a “symbolic gesture.” In an email to Sanford’s 50,000 employees, he noted he had acquired and recovered from Covid-19, and that he no longer needed to wear a mask.

“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,” Krabbenhoft wrote in the email, which was obtained by The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and several other news outlets.

Sanford Health is replacing Krabbenhoft with chief administrative officer Bill Gassen, who joined the organization in 2012. In a news release, Sanford officials credited Krabbenhoft with taking the company “from a community hospital into the largest rural non-profit health system in the country.” Krabbenhoft signed on as president and CEO of Sanford Health in 1996.

Krabbenhoft’s departure comes amid the company’s ongoing attempt to merge with Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare. Under Krabbenhoft’s guidance, Sanford also attempted to merge with Allina and Fairview Health Services. Neither of those mergers panned out.

Though Sanford never made it into a Twin Cities hospital system, the company expanded operations into the region by combining with senior care operator Good Samaritan Society in 2019. Sanford, which now counts 65 Good Samaritan locations in the state, also operates skilled nursing facilities in Maplewood, Roseville and Inver Grove Heights.

Krabbenhoft’s exit appears to have no immediate impact on its merger with Intermountain. In a statement, Intermountain officials said their company “fully supports Sanford Health management and board in their focus on an evidence-based approach to the pandemic.”