The newly elected rector of Eastern Virginia Medical School’s (EVMS) Board of Visitors abruptly resigned last week after less than one month on the job, the school has announced.

The election of Dr. Marcus Martin to the post came as the medical school has weathered pressure from the owner of EVMS’s teaching hospital, Sentara Healthcare. As a tax-exempt charity, Sentara has amassed $6 billion in cash reserves. It has sought to end its obligations to fund EVMS, pushing instead to have Virginia taxpayers pay for the school. However, Sentara still wanted to retain the lucrative EVMS Medical Group.

Martin’s resignation raises questions about who will lead the board, given Sentara’s attempts to change how EVMS is supported and organized. Last year, Sentara sponsored a consultant report that made recommendations that EVMS leaders feared would compromise the school’s independence.

The board has called an 8 a.m. meeting for Wednesday, Aug. 4, presumably to address Martin’s departure and other issues.

Under its previous rector, Dr. Theresa Emory, EVMS’s board rejected the Manatt study with a vote of “no confidence.” EVMS instead said it wanted to better understand the needs of the local community before considering changes to its organizational relationship with neighboring institutions. Under EVMS President Rick Homan, the school embarked on an extensive community outreach program that included listening sessions with the Hampton Roads African-American community. EVMS said it has engaged over 700 community members in these sessions.

EVMS has said its “Community Listening Session” program has attracted financial support from two health care institutions. Yet a group of EVMS students and faculty were concerned enough about Sentara’s pressure on EVMS that they began a “Save Rick Homan” petition, accusing three, unnamed “old guard” members of the board with trying to drive out Homan.

Sentara spokesperson Danya Bushey did not respond to questions about whether Martin’s departure was connected with pressure from Sentara. EVMS spokesman Vincent Rhodes said the school’s statement on Martin’s resignation was the only statement they would provide.

Martin has had a long career as a trailblazing African-American physician in Virginia. He was a member of EVMS’s first class and its first African-American graduate. He was the first African-American clinical chair at the University of Virginia, where he was also a vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity. He retired from the university in 2019.

“Due to unforeseen health-related circumstances, I am stepping down from my duties as Rector and from serving as a member of the Board of Visitors,” Martin said in a statement released by EVMS. “As someone who was there at the school’s beginning, I love this institution and am excited about its potential for growth and a future of sustained excellence. I am confident that EVMS will continue to serve a vital role in the health of the community. Please accept my best wishes to each of you. Thank you for all you do to make EVMS the community asset Hampton Roads depends on.”

Martin will be replaced on a temporary basis by Bruce Waldholtz, M.D., the board of visitors’ deputy rector. Waldholtz is a gastroenterologist and member of the community faculty.

Ray Locker is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.

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