Lost in recent news headlines over the past several months, Kelby Krabbenhoft, Sanford Health CEO and the mastermind behind the explosive growth of the Sanford Healthcare system was forced to make an unceremonious exit from the Sioux Falls enterprise. His ouster involves masks and mergers and may impact the Summit League’s biggest sponsor.
A proposed merger between Intermountain Healthcare and Sanford Health is now on hold indefinitely after Sanford cut ties with Krabbenhoft over his refusal to wear a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Krabbenhoft alerted his staff that he wouldn’t wear a mask because he’d already had COVID-19. The pronouncement was not met positively by fellow health care professionals and the health system parted ways with Krabbenhoft soon thereafter. Bill Gassen was quickly appointed as president after being elevated from his role as chief administrative officer at Sanford Health.
In the email that sparked the controversy and eventually led to his resignation, Krabbenhoft said that “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. I have no interest in using masks as a symbolic gesture.” He cited “growing evidence” that once someone contracts COVID-19, they become immune to it.
The hasty exit of Krabbenhoft put the brakes on the proposed merger with Intermountain Healthcare. The new entity was to be headquartered in Salt Lake City, with corporate offices in Sioux Falls. But, Sioux Falls was nearly certain to be the loser as key leadership roles would have been shifted to Salt Lake City. Furthermore, would the new business entity recognize the key sponsorship role of Sanford Health and the Summit League?
Krabbenhoft was also a prominent local supporter of Augustana University. Sioux Falls newspapers cited his visible support for Augustana’s failed move to DI while he and Sanford Health were seen as major sources of funding for Augie’s cost to move to Summit League membership.
That being said, Krabbenhoft should be saluted for the first-rate athletic facilities Sanford Health developed for Sioux Falls South Dakota. In 2008, Krabbenhoft spearheaded the purchase of a plot of land for the Sanford Sports Complex with a multi-purpose fieldhouse, football fields, hotel, restaurant, and later hockey, tennis, and gymnastics facilities. Sanford Health donated $10 million to South Dakota State University for athletic facilities and peppered funds around the Summit league to include $250,000 gifts to Summit League member schools. Sanford Health, as of this writing, remains the Summit League’s largest commercial sponsor.
The Sanford Pentagon, located in the Sanford Sports Complex, will host this year’s Summit League Conference basketball championships. The 3,250-seat Pentagon is home to Sanford POWER Basketball Academy, Sanford POWER Volleyball Academy, the NBA G League’s Sioux Falls Skyforce, Augustana University Men’s and Women’s Basketball, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Women’s and Men’s Basketball tournaments, and the South Dakota High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
Sanford Health has also partnered with the Summit League to raise awareness for type 1 diabetes, especially in children.
The big question for the new CEO of Sanford Health, Bill Gassen, is whether he will resume merger talks with Intermountain Healthcare in 2021, continue prior funding athletics for Augustana University, and maintain Sanford’s flagship sponsor role with the Summit League.
Only time will tell if new Sanford leadership alters the current relationship between the Summit League and Sanford Health going forward.
Top photo: SiouxFalls Business