SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Sanford Health system and its long-time CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft are parting ways.

His retirement announcement comes a week after he sent out a controversial email to Sanford Health employees where he shared his recovery from COVID-19 and some opinions on masking.

You may remember that when Sanford Health announced an upcoming merger with Intermountain Healthcare, Krabbenhoft said he would retire as CEO in 18 months.

Krabbenhoft says his decision to move up that date was influenced by events of the last couple of weeks, but not the reason why he is leaving.

Krabbenhoft says his message to his employees was personal and he just wanted to share his experience with COVID-19, which he recovered from earlier this month. However, it was his comments on masking that he says were misinterpreted.

Krabbenhoft wrote: “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”

However, he said something else in our interview following the controversy over his statements.

Kennecke: Do you believe it’s safe for you to go without a mask for a long time, a long period of time?
Krabbenhoft: In accordance with guidelines and protocols the CDC is putting out there, I should wear a mask. I don’t have to–like anybody else in accordance with those protocols.
Kennecke: Will you?
Krabbenhoft: Of course. of course.

Krabbenhoft also downplayed the severity of the pandemic

“The word crisis to me is one we should be very cautious using. It’s been thrown around very flippantly. It’s just hard for me to get to the word crisis with what we’re dealing with right now,” Krabbenhoft said.

Following our interview with Krabbenhoft, Sanford Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allison Suttle told CBS News the opposite.

CBS News: Would you classify what is happening here in the Dakotas as a crisis?
Dr. Suttle: I would.

After the fallout from his comments, Krabbenhoft told KELOLAND News: “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.

Krabbenhoft was CEO at Sanford Health for 25 years. Krabbenhoft says he’s leaving Sanford Health, which employs nearly 50,000 in 24 states, in a strong position, but that he doesn’t know what the future of health care holds. He also told KELOLAND News that by this spring, his comments on masks won’t matter much, as a vaccine becomes available. He said,” I’m not an anti-masker, but I’m also not a hysteric virus person.”

Kelby Krabbenhoft released this statement on Tuesday:

We decided that today was a good time to retire.  Sanford is in a good place, strongest ever.  It is Thanksgiving week and almost exactly 25 years since my family came here.  It is a good time to say “goodbye.”  I came here quietly with three little kids 25 years ago, and now they have given me three great spouses, whom I adore, and seven little ones who I can spoil and love. I’ve had the chance to honor and praise lots of people and said “no” to any efforts to do so for me while I was working.  Living up to the original hopes of Mr. Schroeder has always been important to me.  He handed me a successful and precious organization.  Now I get to do the same as I depart.