The interim chief executive of the University of Maryland Medical System met Thursday with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and said he is prepared to make “significant changes” to structure and personnel in the system.
John Ashworth updated Hogan and Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) in Annapolis about reviews the medical system is undertaking in the wake of a self-dealing scandal among board members that led to the resignation of Catherine E. Pugh as mayor of Baltimore.
The meetings were initially scheduled to discuss the results of an audit conducted by Nygren Consulting. But Ashworth said that when Nygren briefed the hospital system board on its findings Thursday morning, he concluded that the review needed to be “much more precise” before it was presented to Hogan, Jones and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert County), who was out of town Thursday.
Maryland’s top officials have sharply criticized the contracts between board members and the hospital system and called for reform, leading to an exodus among the system’s top leaders. The hospital system is a public-private partnership that received nearly $25 million in state funding in the past two years.
Ashworth said he expects the Nygren report will be complete in June. Nygren, a California-based firm, did not respond to requests for comment.
An audit by the state’s Office of Legislative Audits also is underway. Ashworth said UMMS officials are cooperating with auditors, who are reviewing whether board members’ contracts were competitively bid and whether services paid for were delivered.
Hogan met with Ashworth for about 45 minutes. His spokesman, Mike Ricci, said Hogan “appreciates the steps UMMS is taking to restore public trust, and will continue to hold its leaders accountable.”
Jones said that UMMS seems to be “taking this initial audit seriously,” including conducting dozens of interviews and reviewing “extensive documentation.”
“I look forward to seeing the final report with a more detailed explanation of the findings in the next few weeks,” she said in a statement.”
Ashworth, a senior vice president with the system since 2004, became interim CEO in April after Robert A. Chrencik resigned in the wake of the scandal. He said he could not answer questions about board members’ contracts until the Nygren report is complete. However, he said the deals between board members and the hospital system stemmed in part from a “culture that needed to be tightened up.”
Those deals, first reported by the Baltimore Sun, included $500,000 paid to Pugh (D) for her “Healthy Holly” books since 2011. The board’s chair, Stephen A. Burch, and five other members, including Pugh, have resigned.
The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation this year that would dissolve the UMMS board in several stages, require members to reapply, and bar members from holding single-source contracts with the system.
Ashworth said the board approved a conflict of interest policy during its meeting Thursday, which will be presented to Hogan, Miller and Jones by June 1.
“I continue to evaluate our organization,” Ashworth said. “We are in a state of transition — there are so many moving parts.”
At least two dozen people who sit on boards of smaller, affiliated institutions in the massive system had their own business contracts with those institutions, in some cases worth hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, according to financial disclosures.