Will Wagnon, who had served as CEO of HCA Virginia’s Henrico, Parham and Retreat Doctors’ hospitals since 2013, announced his departure from the role in an email to staff Thursday.
HCA Virginia confirmed Friday that Wagnon was gone, saying he stepped down “to spend more time with family,” according to Malorie Burkett, director of public relations and communications for HCA Virginia.
Wagnon had worked for HCA Healthcare for more than 22 years, serving as CEO of MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas for five years before moving to Richmond, according to his LinkedIn profile.
“I’d like to express my sincere appreciation to all of the staff, nurses, physicians and administration for allowing me to be part of such a wonderful organization,” Wagnon wrote in the email.
“Hospitals are about people taking care of people and the foundation of Henrico Doctors’ Hospitals is built upon the great people that work here. Without you and your commitment to our patients, we would not have been able to accomplish the tremendous success and growth that our facilities have experienced over the last six years.”
In his email, Wagnon said that HCA will conduct a national search for his replacement and that Chief Financial Officer Chris Denton will serve as interim CEO for Henrico Doctors’ Hospital-Forest Campus. He added that he plans to travel with his wife and watch his daughter play college field hockey while he reflects on the next chapter of his life.
The Nashville-based hospital chain fell short of earnings expectations for the second quarter of this year, despite a rise in admissions, according to an article in Healthcare Dive published July 30.
Burkett did not respond to other questions about Wagnon’s departure, including whether the system’s slow financial quarter influenced it.
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Drive east on U.S. Route 360 in Hanover County, turn right on Old Church Road, and drive several more miles on the narrow road with the pretzel-like twists and curves.
You’re looking for a road that will carry you deep into the woods, but if you don’t follow someone who knows where to turn, your chances aren’t good. If you do find it, your chances are slim to none that without a guide you can navigate the dirt road and locate the pocket of land that Andrew Sergent has cleared for his practice arena.
If you don’t find it, you won’t hear the chopchopchop of Sergent’s ax with its shining silver head attached to the $50 handle, with a blade so sharp it probably could be used for a smooth morning shave.
You won’t see the immense physical exertion that Sergent, a Lee-Davis High School graduate, expends as he swings his ax quickly from side to side with force powerful enough to cut through 13-inch-thick log in 23 to 24 seconds.
Sergent is a timbersports athlete, and not just any timbersports athlete. He is the 2019 Stihl Timbersports U.S. Collegiate champion, a title he won in late July, representing West Virginia University.
His tools are his ax, crosscut saws and power saws. When he enters his practice den, he has thick stands of trees stretching for acres at his back and a clearing in front of him that seems to reach the horizon.
On Thursday evening, the far edge of that clearing seemed to be touched by a long finger that extended from a bank of thick, dark clouds just before a downpour arrived.
“When you’re fishing by yourself, it’s you and the water,” said Sergent (pronounced Surgent). “When you’re chopping, it’s you and the woods.
“It’s a peaceful interaction of work and relaxation. It’s great exercise and a way to get away from everything else.”
There are tense moments in chopping and sawing, though. They come during high-level competitions, competitions that you might have seen when you’re scrolling through your cable channels. You might have thought, “This is interesting.” You might have chuckled at these unusual Stihl Timbersports events.
But they are no laughing matter to the competitors.
“When you get on stage in front of 2,000 people, head games start playing out, and they can really throw you off your game,” Sergent said. “You have the lights and cameras and announcers chirping in your ears. You start to think, ‘I’m in the spotlight now. There’s only one other person people are watching. It’s head to head.’ Sometimes you think, ‘Don’t mess up’ or you try something to see if it works.
“Your mind starts racing and can lead to failure if you don’t overcome it. Big, strong guys are really good at this but get beaten a lot of times by little guys who have their heads on straight. Seventy percent of success is speed, not wasting any movements and making sure you’re accurate and making your hits [chops] in the right place.”
Sergent, at 6-foot-3, 245 pounds, kept his head on straight to win the national championship held July 26-28 at German Fest in Milwaukee.
His victory was more than a matter of skill and strength. Persistence, planning and focus were essential.
Sergent’s triumph came on his fourth trip to the collegiate championships.
“The first time, I was just happy to be there and still finished third,” he said. “The next year, it was mine to win. I was ahead in points going into the last event.
“I thought I had it in the bag. And I don’t want to say I ‘Cadillacked’ it [relaxed], but I was going slower to be consistent and put down a time. The guy behind me went faster and beat me by one point.
“It was gut-wrenching.”
He finished second again in 2018.
In Milwaukee, Sergent, 23, was fit, confident and had a plan. He made sure he posted a time in the first event, stock saw, which requires two complete cuts through a 16-inch-thick log with a chain saw — one cut going down and the other going up, within 4-inch lines. Cutting outside the lines leads to disqualification and zero points in the event.
He was seventh in the event, but that was good enough.
Then he went to work and won the three other events. His 27 points were two more than runner-up Koby Gutsch, from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
So how do you become a Stihl Timbersports champion?
For that matter, how does a college freshman even get involved in timbersports?
This is not an NCAA sport. If a school has a team, it’s at the club level, and there are 62 schools with club teams in the Stihl Timbersports Collegiate Series.
Sergent was a standout offensive and defensive lineman in football and played first baseman and pitched occasionally on the Lee-Davis baseball team. He also played basketball his senior year. Then, he was 6-3 and weighed 200 pounds.
He had interest from Division III schools in football, but his family is from West Virginia, and Sergent wanted to go to school at WVU, study wood sciences and play baseball.
He made the baseball team in the fall as a walk-on. But the walk-on path is challenging in college sports.
Meanwhile, Sergent had gone to a barbecue for new students. There, a professional timbersports competitor, Josh Wilson, put on a display.
Sergent was intrigued. He had two or three workouts with Wilson, who told Sergent he had potential and should give up baseball.
“I said, ‘You’re crazy, man. I’m not going to quit baseball,’” Sergent said.
Before the fall semester ended, Sergent sensed baseball at West Virginia wasn’t going to go as he had hoped. He put down his bat and picked up an ax.
When people learn of Sergent’s achievements, they offer congratulations and often follow up with, “Timber what?”
“A lot of people might have seen a glimpse of it one time on TV,” Sergent said. “A lot of people ask if it’s tree climbing or log rolling. I have to tell them those are lumberjack sports.
“The easiest way to explain it is to pull up a video compilation of the four [college] or six [pro] events. A lot of times, people sit there in awe as they watch it. They’ll say, ‘Is that a real ax? Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hit your foot?’
“That’s the first thing I said to Josh — ‘I’m not doing this. I’m going to cut my foot off.’ He said, ‘If you’re looking at your line [competitors draw lines on the logs as guides], your hands will follow where your eyes are going.’”
Sergent trains for his sport much the same as any athlete trains for any sport. He lifts weights three times a week — he’s back at Mike’s Olympic Gym in Mechanicsville, where he’s lifted since high school, now that he’s home.
The month before a competition, Sergent forgoes weights and works three days per week chopping and sawing for specific events: the underhand chop, where a competitor stands on the log and chops through it; standing block, which imitates taking down a tree with an ax; the single buck, using a 6-foot-long single buck crosscut saw to rip through an 18-20-inch log; and the stock saw.
With the exception of the stock saw, the events are meant to imitate how loggers worked before the advent of power tools.
Professional Stihl Timbersports competitors have two more events, the highly entertaining spring board — a notch is cut into a tree and a board is inserted. The competitor stands on the board, cuts another notch, inserts another board and stands on that in order to cut the tree above the stump, where the diameter usually is smaller; and the hot saw, which involves a chain saw with a high-power motor from a jet ski, snowmobile or dirt bike.
Before long, Sergent will go pro. One reward for winning the collegiate championship is inclusion on the pro team, as an alternate, for Stihl Timbersports championships in Prague in the Czech Republic on Nov. 1-2. Athletes from more than 20 countries will be in the competition. Sergent will also be in the rookie world championships in Europe in the spring.
A replay of the collegiate championships from July will be shown on CBS Sports on Nov. 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.
In the meantime, Sergent will continue working for Evelyn Logging in Providence Forge while completing his degree in wood sciences and technology from WVU. He needs 10 credit hours and has a $2,000 scholarship from John Deere for his collegiate championship victory to help pay for his remaining courses. He plans to either take them online or at a local college.
Sergent knows he’ll need his degree because making a living as a professional timbersports athlete is almost impossible.
“There’s only one lumberjack [in the United States], Matt Cogar, who doesn’t have a ‘real’ job,” Sergent said. “About 75% do something in forestry. There is one guy who is a farmer, another is an electrician and one guy is a lawyer.”
Cogar is a six-time national champion. “Scooter” Cogar, from Blackstone, is a Stihl Timbersports pro. He finished fourth in the Stihl collegiate competition in 2011, competing for Virginia Tech.
Stihl Timbersports provides a hobby that can provide income, but winnings usually go toward equipment purchases.
A competition ax costs about $550. A competition power saw will run about $2,300, with $200-$300 more for sharpening, and a crosscut saw is around $2,000. Axes and saws also are needed for practice. And hundreds more dollars are spent on safety equipment and clothing.
Sergent isn’t in it for the money. For now, knowing he can return to his practice lair and enjoy the solitude that comes with acres of trees at his back and a serene empty pasture in front of him is payment enough.
In a Henrico County Circuit Court hearing on Friday, an attorney for Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., suggested that someone in the courtroom could be behind one of the anonymous Twitter accounts dedicated to smearing his client.
About 20 people, more than half of the audience at Friday’s hearing, wore T-shirts with cows, carried stuffed toy cows and signed a card addressed to “Devin Nunes’ Cow” as Judge John Marshall heard preliminary arguments in a lawsuit against Twitter, two anonymous accounts and a Republican strategist who is accused of coordinating a smear campaign against the California congressman.
Some of the observers said they decided to attend Friday’s hearing after learning about it through one of the Twitter accounts. They said they found the hearing entertaining and informative, but worry that the lawsuit could chill irreverent political speech online if Nunes prevails.
The lawsuit centers on a series of provocative and withering tweets criticizing the congressman and alleges the social media company’s caretakers discriminate against conservative commentators and politicians, allowing anonymous users to defame and slander them with impunity while “shadow banning” conservative accounts by hiding their tweets from other users without notification.
“How do we know [Devin Nunes’] cow and mom aren’t in Henrico? They won’t tell us,” said Nunes’ lawyer Steven Biss, referring to the two Twitter accounts named in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, and a similar case Nunes filed in Albemarle County against The McClatchy Co. — which operates several newspapers across the nation and published a story containing lurid allegations about a Napa Valley-based winery Nunes partly owns — prompted critics to question whether the actions were filed in Virginia to circumvent more robust California statutes intended to prevent censorship or intimidation through high litigation costs.
McClatchy does not operate any newspapers in Virginia. Henrico County does not appear to have any direct connections to Nunes or the defendants.
While Nunes and Twitter are both based in California, Biss, who is based in Charlottesville, said Republican strategist Liz Mair had sought to defame the congressman on behalf of her clients during his 2018 re-election campaign.
The lawsuit specifically points to one of Mair’s tweets referencing a Fresno Bee newspaper story as one of her “most egregious and defamatory “ comments about Nunes.
In response to a tweet by Nunes, Mair, who then lived in Arlington County, wrote on June 22, 2018: “To be fair, I think the @fresnobee writing up your investment in a winery that allegedly used underage hookers to solicit investment --an allegation you’ve known about for years, during which you’ve stayed invested in it, I might add — did surprise you.”
The lawsuit also claims that the accounts @Devin NunesMom and @Devin Cow attacked and disparaged him with false claims, which harmed his re-election campaign. Twitter has suspended the @Devin NunesMom account.
Nunes, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, won re-election last November against Democratic challenger Andrew Janz by about 5 points.
Several tweets attached to the complaint centered on Nunes’ involvement in a House investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, as well as the Fresno Bee article about Nunes’ stake in the Alpha Omega winery.
“The Twitter attacks on Nunes were pre-planned, calculated, orchestrated and undertaken by multiple individuals acting in concert over a continuous period of time exceeding a year,” the lawsuit states. “The full scope of the conspiracy, including the names of all participants and the level of involvement of donors and members of the Democratic Party, is unknown at this time and will be the subject of discovery in this action.”
On her LinkedIn account, Mair — a former strategist to Republican politicians such as Carly Fiorina, former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — professes to “anonymously smear” her client’s opponents online. An outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, Mair courted controversy during the 2016 presidential campaign when her Make America Awesome super PAC released an ad depicting nude photos of first lady Melania Trump from a 2000 GQ photo shoot.
Joshua Matz, a lawyer for Mair, described the conspiracy allegations as “nebulous.” He said her legal team is planning to contest those allegations in court if the case proceeds. “It seems Mr. Nunes is planning to file these complaints all around the country,” he said. “It’d make more sense in California.”
Earlier this year, after the lawsuits were filed, a lawyer for the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen Litigation Group said he suspects the lawsuit against McClatchy was filed in Virginia in an attempt to get around the California statute.
“Unlike California, the Virginia statute does not create a special procedure for filing [anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation] motions that require judges to determine the plaintiff’s probability of success,” lawyer Paul Levy said, according to The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. “The statute also does not guarantee the granting of attorneys fees for defendants who secure dismissals.”
Lawyers for Twitter also argued that the case should be heard only in California, as its user agreement specifically says that all disputes related to its rules can be brought up only in federal or state courts in San Francisco, where the company is based.
Nunes is seeking $250 million in damages in the Henrico case. Biss, his lawyer, declined to answer questions after court.
Marshall, the Henrico judge, said he will rule within the next two weeks on whether the case will proceed and if Nunes’ lawyer can begin requesting records from the defendants.
One of Gov. Ralph Northam’s new appointees to a state council that advises him on women’s issues has a history of making derogatory attacks on Twitter, including telling author Cornel West to “f--- off and die,” and making jokes about Catholics and Catholic priests and pedophilia.
Northam’s office announced Aug. 16 that Gail Gordon Donegan, a Democratic activist from Alexandria, was among new appointees to the Virginia Council on Women. The 18-member council advises the governor and General Assembly on women’s issues, awards scholarships and develops programming.
Northam in January issued a proclamation recognizing 2019 as a year of reconciliation and civility in Virginia. Asked if the governor still believes Donegan is the most qualified person for the appointment, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky did not answer.
Donegan “has spent years advocating on behalf of issues important to women across the Commonwealth,” Yarmosky responded by email, adding: “The governor certainly does not condone this language.”
Donegan, a corporate lawyer, regularly tweets pictures of herself at political events and rallies with Democratic elected officials, including Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. She tweets under the handle “Satirical Alexandria — Rated Fx by the NRA” and her account has a picture of herself on the profile.
In a phone call on Thursday, Donegan defended her social media posts.
“Psychological studies show that people who swear make better friends,” she said. “... And they’re smarter.”
In a phone call on Friday, she said: “I will say for the record that my father was severely beaten in Catholic foster homes and I am an atheist. My father was orphaned at age 4, sent to live in Catholic foster homes and severely beaten until he ran away at age 14.”
She added: “My husband is an ex-Catholic and he’s not offended by my tweets.”
She declined further comment.
After reviewing some of Donegan’s Twitter posts, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington issued a statement of disappointment in Northam.
“Governor Northam’s appointment of Gail Gordon Donegan to the Virginia Council on Women is disappointing, particularly given her documented use of social media to offend members of the Catholic faith,” said Billy Atwell, chief communications officer for the diocese, in the statement.
“Ms. Gordon Donegan has a record of ridiculing Catholic beliefs and practices and trafficking in stereotypes that would disqualify her from this role had they targeted any other category of persons. Her statements are offensive to human dignity and fail to reflect the depth of character one would expect of a leader in our Commonwealth.”
Deborah Cox, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, issued a statement saying the postings “are extremely offensive to Catholics and the Catholic faith. ... We would expect anyone appointed to a council or commission for the Commonwealth to be respectful of all faith groups and civil in his or her public comments — including social media — given their status as a representative of the Commonwealth, appointed by the governor.”
Among public postings on Twitter going back to 2009, Donegan:
Donegan made that same joke again on Twitter in 2018 and called it “my fave joke.”
Donegan’s appointment was announced Aug. 16 in what was a weekly batch of appointments announced by the governor’s office, which names about 900 people annually to state boards and commissions.
The secretary of the commonwealth’s website says serving on a state board or commission is an honor and a privilege, but applicants should be aware that “in an open and democratic government, the activities of boards and commissions are subject to public and press scrutiny.”
Filling up at the gas pump should be a lot cheaper this fall compared with the summer, according to a new forecast by AAA.
The travel organization is predicting that the majority of motorists in Virginia and the rest of the Mid-Atlantic region will likely see prices that drop about 25 cents per gallon from the summer average for Virginia of $2.47.
That would mean prices should fall to about $2.22 per gallon as demand drops off after Labor Day, when people typically take fewer road trips.
Gas prices already have been on the decline for a month, AAA noted. In the Richmond area, prices were averaging around $2.29 for a gallon of regular gasoline this week, down from $2.33 per gallon a week ago, $2.47 a month ago and $2.57 a year ago, according to AAA.
The online gasoline price tracking site GasBuddy also separately pegged the average price in the Richmond area at around $2.29 per gallon, with the lowest price at $2.03 per gallon.
Prices have averaged around $2.38 per gallon in Virginia so far this year, with the lowest price at $2.02 in January and the highest price at $2.64 in May, according to AAA data.
AAA said Thursday that cheaper crude oil, an expected decline in gasoline demand after Labor Day, and a move to winter-blend gasoline will contribute to a decline in gas prices this fall.
“Gas prices have already been declining since mid-July, a trend we continue to see throughout September into fall,” said Martha M. Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
“This typically happens as demand declines after Labor Day weekend and as stations begin to make the switchover to winter-blend.”
There is uncertainty in the forecast, though.
“As always, hurricane season has the potential to cause declining gas prices to shoot back up,” Meade said.
AAA is forecasting that crude oil prices will range between $50 and $60 per barrel this fall, a considerable drop from last fall when prices ranged between $60 and $75.
This month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 2019’s Atlantic hurricane season is expected to be above normal, with 10 to 17 named storms, including five to nine hurricanes.