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Craig Kent is the highest paid executive in Virginia higher education. But how is his salary determined?

Craig Kent’s salary of $1.1 million makes him Virginia’s highest paid executive in higher education, but in other states, he wouldn’t even be in the top three.

A law passed by the commonwealth in 2019 requires all state colleges to release the salaries of executives whose earnings exceed the limit listed in the state budget for what a CEO is allowed to earn, providing Virginians some insight into how their tax dollars are being spent.

University of Virginia Health CEO Craig Kent’s name was at the top of the list that was made public on Sept. 1, with a salary of $1,097,300, which includes a $50,000 raise he received in the past year. A few months later at a Dec. 8 meeting, the university’s governing Board of Visitors voted to extend Kent’s contract through Jan. 31, 2023, with the potential for additional bonuses based on his performance.

As CEO of UVa Health, as well as executive vice president of health affairs at the university, Kent oversees all UVa Health operations, including the schools of medicine and nursing as well as UVa Health’s primary medical center and children’s hospital in Charlottesville and satellite locations in Albemarle, Amherst, Augusta, Campbell, Fluvanna, Louisa, Nelson, and Orange counties.

Since joining UVa Health in February of 2020, Kent has also overseen the acquisition and integration of three hospitals in Northern Virginia. And in July, UVa Health announced the acquisition of a minority interest in Newport News-based Riverside Health System.

All together, UVa employees more than 17,000 people and generates roughly $4.3 billion in revenue every year.

Kent’s sizable salary is meant to correspond to his sizable stake in the state’s flagship health system, but his compensation may not be as large as it first appears when compared to the earnings of his counterparts elsewhere.

Kent’s salary is determined by the Board of Visitors, which uses the salaries of other school’s executives as benchmarks to set the salaries of its own, according to Kent.

“The university, when it pays salaries for people, it benchmarks those salaries to what other individuals in the same roles across the country are receiving,” Kent told The Daily Progress. “UVa does that in a very thoughtful way.”

When The Daily Progress asked UVa spokeswoman Bethanie Glover what specific college health systems were used as benchmarks to determine Kent’s compensation, she confirmed other schools were used but would not identify which.

“Like all institutions of higher education, the University of Virginia seeks to attract and retain talented faculty, staff, and medical professionals in a highly competitive marketplace,” Glover said via email. “For University executive positions, compensation is benchmarked against other public and private institutions of comparable size and scope to the University.”

Glover stopped responding when The Daily Progress pressed for the names the “public and private institutions of comparable size and scope.”

The salaries of other executives working for other college health systems, however, are public information and readily available for those willing to take the time and effort to research them — which The Daily Progress did.

Speaking with The Daily Progress, Kent maintained, “People are never paid more than they would be if they were at another similar state institution with health care systems.”

But The Daily Progress found that Kent is actually making thousands, sometimes millions, less than other college health system CEOs.

Which may be for the best, considering that in some states the salaries of public health officials aren’t just sizable, they’re scandalous.

For instance, last year, North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell brought in researchers from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Health and Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy to investigate the compensation of executives among the state’s largest hospital systems. Folwell referred to the health networks as a “cartel” in a story published by the Raleigh News & Observer.

Folwell’s review discovered that a majority of CEOs at North Carolina health systems doubled their already seven-figure incomes within the past five years, amid rising health care costs and a global pandemic.

At UNC Health, the state’s flagship medical system based in Chapel Hill employing 29,000 people and generating $5.1 billion in annual revenue, CEO Wesley Burks made $2.4 million in 2021. That’s 74% more than Kent at UVa.

Executives working for Tennessee medical systems also enjoy salaries higher than Kent’s, according to a ProPublica database. The University of Tennessee Medical Center based in Knoxville, which employs 3,747 people and generates about $1.3 billion every year, paid its CEO Joseph Landsman nearly $2 million in 2021. Over in Nashville, Vanderbilt Medical Center, which employs 20,000 employees and generates roughly $3 billion every year, paid its CEO Jeffrey Balser $5.5 million in 2022.

ProPublica also shows that the University of Maryland Medical Center, which employs 10,000 workers and has an annual revenue of $2.2 billion, paid its CEO Bert O’Malley $1.6 million in 2022.

Those within Virginia’s private health care systems also have higher salaries than Kent, according to ProPublica data. Carilion Clinic, which provides medical services primarily in Southside and Southwest Virginia, generating revenues in excess of $2 billion every year and employing about 14,000 people, pays its CEO Nancy Agee $1.7 million. Norfolk-based Sentara Health, which services both Virginia and North Carolina, employs 28,000 employees, brings in $401 million every year and pays its CEO Dennis Matheis $1.7 million.

The institutions that UVa’s Board of Visitors use as benchmarks may not be among this list, but the list itself illustrates that while Kent may be the top earner in the commonwealth of Virginia, he is nowhere near the top even in the mid-Atlantic.


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