Board chairman James “Chip” DiPaula Jr. said Suntha’s reputation as a strong leader devoted to patient care will help the massive medical system move past revelations that nine board members, including Pugh (D), had lucrative contracts with the hospital system they oversaw.
An independent review released this summer found that then-chief executive Robert Chrencik made deals with board members that weren’t competitively bid or properly disclosed. Chrencik and many of the $4.4 billion hospital network’s top leaders left their posts. Pugh, who was paid $500,000 by the system for her “Healthy Holly” books, resigned as mayor.
The General Assembly passed a law requiring barring board members from having single-source contracts with the system and requiring that the board have all new members by January. The majority of those members are already in place.
“The message is that we are moving forward,” DiPaula said. “We have been doing a ton of work internally.”
UMMS is a nonprofit organization that was privatized in 1984 and saw a period of massive expansion in the 2000s. It has 13 hospitals in its network, is one of the largest employers in the state and received nearly $25 million in public funds in the past two years.
Suntha, who was chosen after a national search, has led the system’s flagship downtown medical system since May 2016. Before that he led St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, which was initially beset by legal and financial difficulties but since joining the system has boosted its reputation. A tenured professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, he also has a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
He said his top priority will be delivering high-quality patient care. He wants to focus at first on ensuring that the system’s hospitals and 28,000 employees are serving the communities in which they are located as well as they can. But he also said he will work with the board to evaluate possible opportunities for expansion.
Suntha, who plans to continue to see patients in his new role (specifically those with esophageal malignancies), said he will focus on accountability and ensuring that best practices are followed in his dealings with the board.
“We have a collective responsibility of reminding our state why we are such an important resource,” he said in an interview. “We do that one patient at a time. We do that by demonstrating our commitment to patients every day.”