Sentara Heathcare

Amidst the Pandemic, A Tipster Asks Important Questions

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s alma mater — Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) — is the subject of a new tip from a reader that seems compelling. We’re based in Virginia, where we have reported on state corruption in the past (here and here). And, we’ve also conducted previous investigations into medical industry powerplays.

Now media reports have apparently triggered the tip about moves by Sentara Healthcare of Norfolk, Virginia that would fundamentally change the hospital chain’s relationship with EVMS. (H/T to Bacon’s Rebellion’s James C. Sherlock and the Virginia Pilot’s Elisha Sauers.) EVMS is a public teaching institution founded in the 1970s by the Hampton Roads community to provide medical education and outcomes in the area. Sentara’s original hospital, Norfolk General, is located on the EVMS campus.

Here’s the tip:

Black Community Suffering

We are, unfortunately, entering into a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is hitting the Black community particularly hard. That is happening on top of rock-bottom pre-pandemic health outcomes for too many people in the Hampton Roads area.

We don’t know a lot at this early stage about Sentara’s motivations. But given the stakes involved, what we do know is concerning.

Sentara operates a dozen hospitals, seven of which are in Hampton Roads. Though structured as a “nonprofit,” Sentara pays its CEO, Howard Kern, $3.3 million a year, with net revenue for the nonprofit of $6.3 billion.

Sentara HeathcareSentara Announces Big Merger Plans 3 Months Ago

Perhaps most importantly, Sentara announced three months ago its intention to merge with North Carolina-based Cone Health to form an entity that will be valued at $11.5 billion. Moves to foster the merger were underway for 10 months before EVMS officials were informed.

Justifying the merger is a study by Manatt Health Strategies and commissioned by ReInvent Hampton Roads. ReInvent refused to tell the Virginia Pilot how it got involved or what its role in the process has been.

“Even that is confidential, to be honest with you,” ReInvent Chairman John “Dubby” Wynne, said to the Pilot.

This immediately raises questions about why ReInvent is keeping “confidential” a study of a public institution (EVMS) and that could have enormous public health consequences for a community of one million Virginians. Given the stakes involved, shouldn’t there be an extensive public discussion about these changes?

Perhaps most alarmingly is the seemingly support of Governor Northam, an EVMS graduate. Given the amount of backdoor maneuvering that seems to have taken place to date, perhaps the Governor knows a fact set that has given him confidence that this situation will turn out for the good.

For the rest of us, though, there are loads of questions that need answering. The second wave of the worst public health crisis in over 100 years would be the worst time for corporate valuation moves to hurt public health infrastructure depended on by an underserved community.

We’ll report back on what we learn.


Do you have information to share? Send us a note through our confidential tip line.


Scott Peterson 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.