Nation & World

Sanford Health replaces CEO after masks email

Krabbenhoft had COVID-19, wasn't wearing a mask

Kelby Krabbenhoft was replaced Tuesday as head of Sanford Health less than a week after telling employees that he had re
Kelby Krabbenhoft was replaced Tuesday as head of Sanford Health less than a week after telling employees that he had recovered from COVID-19 and was not wearing a mask around the office. (Argus Leader/Associated Press)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The head of one of the largest regional health systems in the Midwest was replaced Tuesday, less than a week after telling employees that he had recovered from the novel coronavirus and was not wearing a mask around the office.

Sanford Health said in a release that it has “mutually agreed to part ways” with longtime CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft, who took over in 1996 and helped expand the organization from a community hospital into what is billed as the largest rural nonprofit health system in the country.

Krabbenhoft left the executive position after telling employees in an email that he believes he’s now immune to COVID-19 for “at least seven months and perhaps years to come” and that he isn’t a threat to transmit it to anyone.

He said wearing a mask would be merely for show.

Other Sanford executives tried to distance themselves from the comments.

Dr. Kathy Anderson, president of the North Dakota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it was “an especially dangerous message to be sending right now in North Dakota.”

North and South Dakota are listed by the New York Times Washington Post databases as among the top three or four states for positive tests of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises people to wear masks because they help prevent people who are infected — whether they know it or not — from spreading the coronavirus.

It also says masks can also protect wearers who are not infected, though to a lesser degree.

Krabbenhoft said in a statement that the timing of his departure was right for him and his family.

“We decided that today was a good time to retire,” he said. “Sanford is in a good place, strongest ever.”

The company’s board of trustees have named Bill Gassen to take over for Krabbenhoft.

Gassen has been with Sanford since 2012, most recently serving as chief administrative officer.

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