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UNC silent about CEO pay

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By LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 16, 2017

UNC Health Care is playing shell games with salaries for hospital executives.

Larry Chewning, the CEO at Nash UNC Health Care, was asked to step down late last month by the local hospital board but was allowed to announce he was retiring. Chewning will be walking away with around $1 million since he has an ironclad two-year rolling contract, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Chewning didn't deny the amount he is receiving, but instead referred questions to UNC Health Care's attorney. Inquiries into Chewning's salary and severance package led the Telegram on a goose chase involving lawyers, public relations spokesmen and uninformed officials.

Beginning with Chewning, there has been a series of refusals to disclose the salary of the top executive at a publicly-owned hospital in a state-owned network of hospitals. Drilling down, it was discovered that all the CEOs in the UNC system except for the UNC Medical Center in Chapel Hill are employed by Rex Hospital, a privately-owned hospital in Raleigh.

“I am legally precluded from disclosing any information from my employment agreement with Rex Hospital,” Chewning said, including the contact information for Don Esposito, Rex Hospital's general counsel.

Esposito referred the Telegram to Alan Wolf, the media relations manager for UNC Health Care and UNC REX Healthcare.

“We comply with all legal requirements, but it's not our practice to disclose salary information, for competitive and privacy reasons,” Wolf said. “Mr. Chewning is employed by Rex Hospital Inc., which is not a North Carolina governmental entity and therefore is not subject to Chapter 132, the Public Records Act.”

A requirement of local hospitals wanting to join the UNC system is that their CEO becomes a UNC Health Care employee.

Nash County officials said they understood that's they way it had to be, but none of them knew the CEO was being paid through Rex, which makes their salaries private.

At least one member of the local hospital board said they don't understand how the process works and isn't sure how the hospital will get a new CEO.

“As part of the management agreement, UNC Health Care provides Nash with a CEO,” Wolf said. “Having a centralized management team gives UNC Health Care more control over decisions and operations at its affiliated hospitals.”

Chewning has been the CEO at Nash since 2007. He became a UNC employee in 2014 when the hospital joined the UNC system.

Nash Health Care Board Chairman John Lilley said the board will select Chewning's replacement with UNC Health Care's help.

Chewning's exit comes after the hospital has been losing money and in the wake of a negative patient safety report. Chewning will remain with the hospital while his replacement is sought, according to his retirement announcement.

Chewning is only the third CEO of the hospital since it opened nearly 50 years ago. He replaced Rick Toomey, who replaced long-time CEO Bryant Aldridge.

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