Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) on Wednesday voiced their concerns about financial deals made by University of Maryland Medical System board members during a meeting with its officials.
Hogan, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) have all sharply criticized the deals, which were first reported by the Baltimore Sun and were in some cases worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Stephen A. Burch, the chairman of the board of the medical system, which is known as UMMS, said the board will meet Thursday about the next steps it will take.
“We are more concerned about the institution and its reputation than we are about people and the board,” he said at a brief news conference following the meeting in Hogan’s office, which lasted about an hour.
Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, called the meeting productive and said the governor “clearly and emphatically expressed his concerns about conflicts of interest on the board of UMMS. He underlined the importance of addressing the public outcry, and the leaders of UMMS expressed their commitment to act.”
Miller did not speak after the meeting, but he earlier said he wanted to see the issue resolved before the legislative session ends in April. so the “public can rest assured that this is being run and run right and with transparency.”
His spokesman Jake Weissman said Miller expects legislation to pass before the end of session. There is a bill pending in the General Assembly that would bar board members from benefiting from contracts with the hospital systems they oversee. That bill had a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee last week.
Busch, who had to undergo a medical procedure, was not able to attend the meeting. But Busch, who has served on the UMMS board for 16 years, said in a statement that the medical system “cannot regain the public’s trust without a full accounting.”
He said he requested emergency legislation to bring more transparency to the hospital system that will be introduced at the end of this week.
Robert A. Chrencik, the president and chief executive of the medical system, also attended the meeting Wednesday. Neither he nor Burch took questions at the news conference.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) resigned Monday from the board after criticism for selling 20,000 copies of her self-published children’s book series “Healthy Holly” to the University of Maryland health system. On a financial disclosure form, she listed a $100,000 profit for one year from selling the books. Pugh’s spokesman James E. Bentley II said the mayor is leaving the board to deal with pressing issues in Baltimore.
Bentley said Wednesday that Pugh has returned $100,000 from Healthy Holly LLC to UMMS. He said she returned the money because production of the books was delayed, and they were not actually delivered to the hospital system.
At the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) called for an independent audit of the board’s activities.
“It’s gone on for a long time,” Franchot said. “It raises some real ethical concerns.”
Hogan, who also sharply criticized the deals last week, described them at the Board of Public Works meeting as “outrageous” and “appalling.”
“It’s something we need to get to the bottom of,” he said.
Burch said Tuesday that he requested board members who have business relationships with the medical system to immediately take a voluntary leave of absence from the board while they review their governance practices. Those members include August J. Chiasera, former state senator Francis X. Kelly, James A. Soltesz and Walter A. Tilley Jr.
Burch said he has also accepted the resignations of board members John W. Dillon and Robert L. Pevenstein, who both reported making more than $100,000 annually through contracts with the system.
Soltesz released a statement saying his company was awarded an engineering contract by UMMS five years before he joined the board based on competitive bidding. He said that he had no relationship with the board at the time and has not participated in any board matters involving his company or contract.
“I have asked for an independent review of these facts, which I think will show that we complied with the highest ethical standards,” he said in a statement. “I will happily remain on leave from the board until this matter is thoroughly reviewed.”
Burch said that he is taking seriously the concerns raised and that addressing the issue is one of his highest priorities.
“Not only have we taken these critical steps, we will evaluate how the Board conducts business, including a comprehensive review of existing agreements and contracts, and will create a path forward, with a view toward enhanced governance and optimal transparency,” Burch said in a statement.