Virginia medical school inks $497K deal with PR firm linked to sharing negative Sentara stories 

Eastern Virginia Medical School will pay public relations firm TigerComm, which has ties to a blog publicizing negative stories about the school’s hospital partner, Sentara Healthcare, nearly $500,000, according to a June 9 Virginian-Pilot report. 

Eight details: 

1. Norfolk-based Eastern Virginia Medical School signed a contract with TigerComm in November 2020 and has extended it through the end of June, increasing its expected payments to $497,000, according to the report. 

2. The contract extensions have supported EVMS' legislative strategy, a community engagement plan, crisis communications advice and branding and marketing assistance, among other services. 

3. EVMS' contract extension with TigerComm follows reports that the PR vendor shares a founder, Mike Casey, with Checks and Balances Project, a blog that has tried to attract media attention to negative stories about Norfolk, Va.-based Sentara Healthcare since November, according to the report. 

4. In a June 10 emailed statement to Becker's Hospital Review, an EVMS spokesperson said Mr. Casey disclosed early in their discussions that he helped found the blog "some time ago" and that it has been active on various issues in Virginia. 

"We were clear that we were not seeking any involvement with this blog, nor providing funding for it or any other similar platform," the EVMS spokesperson said. "There has been no contractual relationship between EVMS and the Checks and Balances Project or [the blog's financer] Renew American Prosperity." 

5. EVMS' funds have not been used to support the Checks and Balances Project blog, and the medical school has not and does not direct or request any content or coverage from the blog, the EVMS spokesperson said, adding, "We have no more influence over it than we do other news outlets that have been critical of Sentara." 

6. EVMS hired TigerComm in November after clashing with Sentara over the future of the medical school, which receives a majority of its funding from the health system, according to The Virginian Pilot. The disagreement became public after a consultant, predominantly paid by Sentara, prepared recommendations on how EVMS could instead be run by Old Dominion University, according to the report. 

7. Sentara addressed the situation in a June 11 statement emailed to Becker's: "For more than 50 years, Sentara has been EVMS’ most steadfast partner and largest donor. We were disappointed by the school’s part in funding a campaign against Sentara that, among other things, used a questionable 'investigative' news blog to publish posts critical of our leaders and commitment to the community," a health system spokesperson said. "We have always been and remain dedicated to working with EVMS to continue to advance care for all those we serve."

8. EVMS said while it greatly appreciates the funding from Sentara over the years, "it's easy to see that EVMS has been dramatically underfunded since its inception" when "comparing its funding to national models for how and to what magnitude teaching hospitals support their respective medical schools." 

Editor's note: Becker's updated this report at 12:55 p.m. CST on June 11 to include a statement from Sentara. 


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