Hospital CEO Who Refused to Wear Mask Pushed Into Retirement

Tracy Connor
·2-min read
Bing Guan/Reuters
Bing Guan/Reuters

The CEO of a Midwest hospital system is out of a job days after he sent a bizarre letter to employees in which he said he would not be wearing a mask because he believed he was immune after contracting COVID-19.

Kelby Krabbenhoft, who is not a doctor, had headed Sanford Health since 1996. Just a a few weeks ago, after the announcement of a merger with Intermountain Health, he said he planned on staying another 18 months.

But that all changed after his email—which was shocking enough that Sanford officials quickly put out a statement disavowing it.

In the note, he said he had recovered from the coronavirus and was now immune for seven months—even though medical experts say it’s not clear how long immunity lasts.

Even more disturbing, Krabbenhoft informed employees he would not be wearing a mask in the office, even though Sanford recommends masks and is headquartered in one of the nation’s worst hot spots.

Hospital Lurches Away From CEO’s Vow That He Won’t Mask Up After COVID Infection

“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.

“I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture,” he added “My team and I have a duty to express the truth and facts and reality and not feed the opposite.”

He even seemed to question the wisdom of wearing masks outside the operating room.

“The ‘on-again, off-again’ behavior of mask use by the general population violates every notion of serious infectious management that I was trained to adhere to, so some of this is absurd,” he wrote.

A spokesman for the health-care system, which operates hundreds of rural hospitals and clinics and employs some 50,000 people, put out a damage control statement that the email only represented “personal opinions about the virus” and not company policy.

That was followed up by a statement from other top Sanford executives who wrote: “We know that words matter, and words have power, and we regret that the message left many frustrated and disappointed.”

On Tuesday evening came another announcement that Krabbenhoft and Sanford had agreed to part ways. The dethroned CEO told KELO-TV that the mask letter was not the impetus.

“If there was ever a time for a guy, who’s been through what I’ve been through, this is a great time to say goodbye,” he said.

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