Dr. K. Craig Kent took over as UVA’s new executive vice president for health affairs on Feb. 1, overseeing the health system at a pivotal time. After a 2019 Washington Post story detailed aggressive billing and collection practices, including filing more than 36,000 lawsuits in six years to secure payments from patients, the system is revamping its policies. Dr. Kent will play a key role in decisions going forward. The longtime researcher who specializes in vascular diseases is former dean and vice president for health sciences at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Here is a Q&A with Dr. Kent, edited for clarity and condensed.
You worked to grow research at Ohio State. Why is that so important?
The only reason we’re capable of improving our treatment of patients is because of academic medical centers and the really innovative research that goes on. We’re pushing the field forward very quickly. If you really want to be one of the nation’s top academic medical centers—and that’s my goal for Virginia—research, innovation and trying to find new treatments has to be an important part of that.
What were your thoughts on how UVA responded to the Post story?
I was following along because I was looking at the role, and I was incredibly impressed with how quickly the University and the Health System responded. One of the [things] I was so impressed with was the development of a group of individuals that includes community members as well as people from the University and Health System [to find solutions]. The quick response and social conscience to involve people outside the leadership of the Health System was really fantastic.
UVA isn’t alone in grappling with these issues of payment, of course.
This is not unique to UVA—how to care for the indigent patient. And it’s complicated. What I want to make sure doesn’t happen is that the billing crisis sets the new definition of UVA. The truth is that UVA is unbelievably robust. It has wonderful doctors. The amount of research that goes on there is incredible. What happens there on a daily basis is almost unbelievable.
What most excites you about coming to UVA?
I’ve moved for different leadership roles several times in my life, and I might be more excited about this than any other position that I’ve taken. It’s a great role—to be able to influence an entire medical center. But I love Charlottesville. I love the people of Charlottesville. I love everybody who works at the medical center. The University is unbelievable, both with its quality and its approach to its students. And then the history is just incredible. I have to be one of the luckiest guys in academic medicine.