Sentara is $6 billion health care conglomerate that enjoys tax-exempt status with the IRS as a charitable organization. It has amassed a near-monopoly grip on the health care market of southeastern Virginia, in part through its heavy use of lobbyists, attorneys and others.
Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) has compiled the first-ever look at the size and reach of the Sentara Lobby, including the individuals and organizations who comprise it.
C&BP has been investigating how non-profit Sentara uses the lobbying and influence to crush competitors, the lengths it goes to do that and the impact its activities have on average citizens.
- Anna James. A top aide to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, James oversees Sentara’s lobbying efforts. Her twin sister, Megan Healy, is a top official in the administration of current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
- Keenan Caldwell. A veteran Richmond lobbyist, he joined Sentara in 2019 as James’ deputy.
- Andrew Stephenson. He has been a member of the Sentara government affairs team since 2006.
- Lou Patalano. A former prosecutor, he is the corporate vice president and chief legal officer of Sentara. His office supervises regulatory compliance and multiple other issues.
Vectre Corp. This Richmond lobbying firm has deployed up to five lobbyists per year to work state government. Vectre listed 20 bills it tracked through a year’s General Assembly. The company also lobbied on Sentara’s behalf with the Governor’s office and other executive branch agencies. Here are Vectre’s lobbyists who have been listed as working on the Sentara account in the last two years:
- Philip Abraham. One of the firm’s founders, Abraham worked for Democratic governors Chuck Robb and Gerald Baliles in the 1980s and joined Vectre in 1996. He is the firm’s main lobbyists for state agencies and the General Assembly.
- Benson Dendy III. A cofounder of the firm with Abraham, Dendy has long ties with Virginia’s Democratic officials starting in 1978. He has led the transition committees for Democratic governors Mark Warner and Terry McAuliffe.
- Richard Grossman. The firm’s manager for state government affairs and grassroots strategy, Grossman “monitors many pending legislative and regulatory issues before the General Assembly and various state regulatory agencies to provide in-depth analysis of possible impact on our clients’ initiatives,” according to the firm’s website.
- David Skiles. Skiles is the firm’s Washington representative and works with Fairfax County, Va., officials.
- Christopher Whyte. A veteran of the Jim Gilmore and George Allen administrations, Whyte is the firm’s main Republican.
This boutique lobbying firm has represented Sentara and Optima in Richmond with one lobbyist:
- Kenneth Hutcheson. For the last 2 1/2 years. Hutcheson has also lobbied for Optima, Sentara’s affiliated insurance company. Lobbying records say he represented the company before the legislature and executive branch.
While not a lobbying firm, this Richmond law firm handles most of Sentara’s Certificate of Public Need (COPN) litigation in Virginia. It also represents Sentara in a variety of civil cases. One of the firm’s former attorneys, Ashley Provost, is now Sentara’s associate counsel.
- Jamie Martin. The head of Williams Mullen’s health care practice, she has worked as an outside counsel for Sentara for more than 20 years. Records from the Virginia health commissioner’s office show that Martin submitted Sentara’s objections to a rival hospital’s application for a COPN permit for a new facility. She also participated as a legal advisor to a 2015 COPN work group, representing herself only as an outside attorney. Some of her recommendations to the group would have benefited Sentara financially.
- ReInvent Hampton Roads. An offshoot of the Hampton Roads Chamber, ReInvent Hampton Roads is a nonprofit that says its mission is “focused on generating high-paying, satisfying jobs to underpin a vibrant economy.” In 2020, it hired a consulting firm, Manatt Health Strategies, to study ways to combine Eastern Virginia Medical School with two of the region’s state universities – Norfolk State and Old Dominion. It was later revealed that Sentara had provided the bulk of the funding for the Manatt study, the results of which closely aligned with Sentara’s interests. Sentara CEO Howard Kern is a member of the ReInvent Hampton Roads board.
- Gordon Morse. A longtime writer in the Hampton Roads area, Morse has written op-ed columns and unsigned editorials that have supported Sentara’s corporate interests. In December, Virginia Public Radio reported that Morse had written unsigned editorials for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in favor of energy powerhouse Dominion Energy without disclosing that he was being paid by Dominion. Morse had previously written speeches for Dominion’s CEO. Morse had not responded to requests for comment from the Checks and Balances Project.
Do you have information to share about the Sentara Lobby? Send us a note through our confidential tip line.
Ray Locker is enterprise and investigative editor 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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