Governor Was Told by Mega-Donor Wynne and ODU That EVMS Was “On Board”
New public records obtained by Checks and Balances Project (C&BP) reveal Virginia Governor Ralph Northam does not intend to support a push by Sentara Healthcare CEO Howard Kern to offload the operational costs of Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) onto Virginia taxpayers.
Contemporaneous notes summarizing a call initiated by Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey L. Layne Jr. with EVMS Rector Dr. Theresa Emory indicates the Governor had been misled by Sentara and other players. The call took place on November 25, 2020.
Records previously obtained by C&BP indicate that Northam attended a hastily organized meeting on July 27 on the roof of the Dominion building in Norfolk that was called by Virginia political mega-donor and billionaire John “Dubby” Wynne. Wynne had sought the meeting to discuss and potentially finalize an arrangement sought by Sentara’s Kern.
Critics are concerned that the arrangement sought by Kern would allow Sentara to keep the profitable EVMS Medical Group, from which it draws low-cost, highly skilled medical residents to work at Sentara, as well as a profitable caseload stream. At the same time, Sentara apparently seeks to have EVMS’s medical school be combined with Old Dominion University (ODU), a public institution, where costs would be covered by Virginia taxpayers. ODU has never had a medical school.
Curious Timing of Events
The timing of Sentara’s announcement on August 12 of a $11.5B merger with Cone Health, which Kern would helm, raises questions.
According to the call summary, Layne told Rector Emory that Northam agreed to attend the rooftop summer meeting at the invitation of ODU, as well. However, other EVMS records indicate the meeting had been cancelled because EVMS officials felt they had been kept in the dark. On July 13, however, Wynne told Richard V. Homan, MD, President and Provost of EVMS, that he would re-schedule the meeting.
Layne told Emory that Governor Northam had attended the July 27 rooftop meeting after being told by Wynne and ODU that “[EVMS President] Rick Homan was on board.”
EVMS Board of Trustees Member Wayne Wilbanks and Dr. Emory’s attempts to understand the nature of the meeting were unsuccessful.
Sentara CEO Kern on Board of ReInvent Hampton Roads
The Virginian-Pilot reported that Wynne’s nonprofit, ReInvent Hampton Roads, had hired Manatt Health Strategies to conduct a study of how to consolidate EVMS into other neighboring institutions. Yet EVMS leaders were kept out of the loop for several months and were unaware that Kern was on the board of ReInvent. Although the ReInvent website listing board members has been taken down in recent weeks, Kern’s bio lists him as a ReInvent board member.
In the July meeting, Wynne pulled out a statement of work to cover the costs of the Manatt study and demanded each party put in money. Emory said she felt pressured by the Governor’s presence to provide part of the funding for the Manatt study, which EVMS says was begun without its knowledge.
“We felt we had no choice at all,” Emory told Layne. “Here is the Governor, at a meeting, a statement of work is given out. Everyone is agreement, and it appeared endorsed by the Governor.”
Layne told Emory that some of the parties involved had already sought $15 million in annual state funding for EVMS’s operating costs. But Layne had not put any money into the state budget and would not do so.
Says Emory to Layne: “How is it that the richest health system in the country, for its size, is sitting in the area with some of the worst health disparities in the country? How is that not a problem for the state? The African-American community is being hit disproportionately by the pandemic and all Sentara seems concerned about is unloading the institution that is serving the local community, in the middle of a pandemic so they can have a clean slate when they merge with Moses Cone.”
“If the [Manatt] study is going nowhere,” stated Layne, “if the parties are not on the same page, we are done.”
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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.