SALT LAKE CITY — The merger between Sanford Health and Intermountain Healthcare, which was dubbed a “match made in heaven” by one Utah health care executive, is now on hold indefinitely.

“We are disappointed but understand the recent leadership change at Sanford Health has influenced their priorities,” said Marc Harrison, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare. “There’s much to admire about the work that Sanford Health is doing. We continue to share a strong vision for the future of health care.”

The merger between the Midwest health care system and Intermountain Healthcare, a Utah-based company with hospitals throughout the West, would have created one of the largest health care delivery systems in the country. When it was announced in October of this year, Harrison called the marriage of two systems founded by religious groups “a match made in heaven.”

The negotiations stalled after Sanford Health President and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft resigned in the wake of a controversy where he sent an email to Sanford staff saying he didn’t need to wear a mask because he’d recovered from COVID-19, and that wearing a mask was 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,” he told staff of the South Dakota-based company in an email obtained by CNN .

He resigned a week after that, leaving the position he’d held for 25 years. The Sanford Health Board of Trustees last week appointed Bill Gassen as the organization’s new president and CEO. 

In a statement Friday, Sanford leadership joined with Intermountain officials in announcing the suspension of any merger negotiations. The press release cited the change in leadership as the reason to “pause current merger and acquisition activity while they address other organizational needs.”

Their new CEO didn’t address whether the merger would die or just be delayed.

“With this leadership change, it’s an important time to refocus our efforts internally as we assess the future direction of our organization,” Gassen said. “We continue to prioritize taking care of our patients, our people, and the communities we serve as we look to shape our path forward.”

Gassen added, “We have great respect for Intermountain Healthcare, Dr. Marc Harrison, and their leadership team and look forward to continuing to learn from each other.”

Intermountain Healthcare employs more than 41,000 people and has 23 hospitals and one virtual hospital across Utah, Idaho and Nevada. Sanford Health has 46 hospitals across 24 states and employs 48,000 people. 

The boards of both companies voted unanimously to enter into the merger. The regulatory process began in March, but the actual merger would have occurred in mid-2021.