ODU, EVMS merger possibility arises with new officer hire
Hemphill cites 'plan to integrate ODU and EVMS in 2023'
A high-profile hire announced Tuesday by Old Dominion University has raised questions about the possibility of a formal merger with Eastern Virginia Medical School, although statements from the two Hampton Roads educational institutions say it’s “premature” to respond to questions about the prospect.
Dr. Alicia Monroe will join ODU in a few weeks as chief integration officer and senior advisor to President Brian O. Hemphill to establish an academic health sciences center in partnership with EVMS and Sentara Healthcare, the university announced Tuesday. The position will be in place for two years, and Monroe, who most recently served as provost and senior vice president of academic and faculty affairs at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, will start Sept. 6, according to ODU.
An employee of ODU with an annual salary of $425,000, Monroe will have an office with at least two full-time employees, and she will also serve as an untenured professor in the School of Community and Environmental Health, pending approval by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) of the School of Public Health, an ODU spokesman told Virginia Business.
“[Monroe’s] expertise and leadership will be critical in providing needed direction and support to the integration management office across all facets of our planning and implementation efforts. This is a significant step forward in providing a robust framework and necessary resources for addressing our region’s health disparities,” Hemphill said in a statement Tuesday.
But the hire takes on additional significance after Hemphill sent a letter to ODU’s faculty and staff earlier this month stating a goal “to develop a comprehensive plan to integrate ODU and EVMS in 2023,” while also noting that “a formal agreement has not been reached as this merger is contingent upon the work of the functional teams, as well as securing additional resources to support this expanded effort.”
A “joint response” by ODU and EVMS to questions sent by Virginia Business on Tuesday indicates that an agreement to merge the two institutions is not set and is in fact part of the task facing Monroe and her team over the next two years. “It is premature to respond to the question, ‘Is EVMS becoming an arm of ODU?'” spokesman Joseph T. Garvey responded by email. Monroe’s contract ends in two years, he added.
“Dr. Monroe has been selected for a two-year appointment to lead ODU’s Integration Management Office. Once the integration planning and related work are complete, the office and her position would no longer exist. It is premature to respond to the question, ‘Is that when EVMS would become part of ODU?’ as that is the purpose of the current exploratory and planning work.”
Hemphill’s letter lays out recent plans that have been in the works between the two institutions, which signed an agreement with Sentara to create a health center and are partnering with Norfolk State University to create a School of Public Health.
In response to a question from Virginia Business about why there is currently no formal agreement for the merger of ODU and the privately run EVMS, Garvey wrote, “as the institutions are engaging in the beginning of a comprehensive planning effort … the institutions are being very intentional and thoughtful in bringing together campus constituents and engaging with various stakeholders.”
“In recent months, cross-functional teams, including both ODU and EVMS officials have been working to develop strategies,” Hemphill wrote. Further down, he wrote that nine functional teams are being formed further explore areas including accreditation and faculty affairs, clinical affairs and medical group, communications and branding, development and philanthropy, enrollment management and student affairs and others.
A website, www.odu.edu/exploration, will be updated in coming months, Hemphill wrote.
These agreements are in addition to other regional health initiatives EVMS and ODU are part of. In January 2021, Sentara announced a $10 million investment split between ODU, NSU, EVMS and other organizations in Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg and Suffolk. ODU and NSU each received $2 million to support the development of the School of Public Health, and another $3 million went to ODU, EVMS and NSU for public health and health equity initiatives. The remaining $3 million went to community organizations to address underserved communities. Sentara also donated $2 million to EVMS to support the development of the School of Public Health. In May, Sentara established two new collaborative grants at ODU, EVMS and NSU for collaboration among the three institutions, along with Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters, to decrease health disparities in underserved communities.
One point ODU officials emphasize every time another partnership between the university and EVMS is announced, including in the news release announcing Monroe’s hire, is the decades-long relationship between the institutions.
EVMS appointed Dr. Alfred Abuhamad from interim head to permanent president, provost and dean in June.
The two schools are “currently exploring ways to strengthen health-focused academic program offerings, world-class research in both existing and new specialty areas, and state-of-the-art clinical care, as well as expand the workforce pipeline for needed health care workers,” Garvey wrote in response to questions from Virginia Business.
“That academic health sciences center could take shape as the result of an integration of EVMS and ODU,” he added. “All of that work is contingent upon an internal planning process, as well as engagement and support with critical partners.”
Repeating a legacy?
One of Hemphill’s legacies at Radford University, where he served as president for five years, is a 2019 merger between the Jefferson College of Health Sciences and Carilion Clinic to create Radford University Carilion. The merger made Radford’s nursing program the second-largest in Virginia and 22% of Radford’s students are pursuing a degree in a health-related field.
For an April 2021 Virginia Business story, Kay Kemper, former rector of ODU’s board of visitors, commented on the possibility of history repeating itself as Hemphill left Radford to become ODU’s president last year.
“Dr. Hemphill’s successes range from enrollment management to fundraising, and many of his forward-thinking initiatives in such areas as health sciences and partnership-building mirror Old Dominion’s longstanding strengths and priorities,” Kemper said. “We believe he will write an exciting new chapter for ODU.”
Similarly, Abuhamad said Tuesday in a statement, “We are looking forward to great collaboration with President Hemphill, Dr. Monroe and all of our ODU colleagues. In meeting with Dr. Monroe, it is clear that she brings a great deal of energy, expertise and excitement to our growing partnership.”
Editor’s note: The story has been clarified to show that EVMS appointed Dr. Alfred Abuhamad from interim to permanent president, provost and dean.