Sanford Health CEO Resigns After Saying He’s Immune To Coronavirus, Calling Masks A ‘Symbolic Gesture’

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Sanford Health’s Board of Trustees announced Tuesday that longtime CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft would be stepping down after he sent highly contentious emails with unfounded claims about coronavirus to the company’s staff.

Krabbenhoft, who has been president and CEO since 1996, “mutually agreed to part ways” with the largest regional health system in the Midwest, The Hill reported. Chief administrative officer Bill Gassen, who has worked with Sanford since 2012, was appointed as CEO. He will begin immediately, according to a press release. (RELATED: Experts Weigh In On Biden’s COVID-19 Containment Plan)

After contracting coronavirus, Krabbenhoft said in an email earlier in the month that he believes that he’s immune to coronavirus for “at least seven months and perhaps years to come,” the Associated Press reported. He also reportedly said that wearing a mask would be a “symbolic gesture.”

“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,” the email said, according to the Associated Press. “I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture … My team and I have a duty to express the truth and facts and reality and not feed the opposite.”

He acknowledged that it is important for people to know that “masks are just plain smart to use and in their best interest.”

Two days later, 5 top Sanford Health executives sent a follow-up email to employees trying to retract some of Krabbenhoft’s statements.

“We know that words matter, and words have power, and we regret that the message left many frustrated and disappointed,” Chief Operating Officer Matt Hocks and other executives wrote in the letter. “Whether you’ve had the virus or not, it is recommended that you wear a mask when you cannot be socially distanced. Our masking policy for Sanford Health remains unchanged.”

Executive Vice President Micah Aberson said in a statement that Krabbenhoft’s email does “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,” Aberson said, according to the Associated Press.

Krabbenhoft told the Argus Leader in an interview Thursday that Sanford’s system of hospitals is prepared and able to handle the number of coronavirus patients coming in, despite case numbers rising across the country.

“At this point, we feel we’ve got this under control,” Krabbenhoft told the outlet. “There’s not a crisis.”

Coronavirus cases have been rising across the country, and states are re-imposing some coronavirus restrictions in an attempt to slow the spread. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that travel and gatherings around the holidays could lead to another spike in cases.