Medical System Leaders Say Officials Are Scrambling to Make Changes

UMMS board chairman Stephen Burch (foreground) and UMMS CEO Richard Chrencik (left) after meeting Wednesday with the governor and Senate president. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and a top state lawmaker shared “strong views” during a meeting with the men who run the University of Maryland Medical System on Wednesday, the panel’s leader told reporters afterward.

UMMS Chair Stephen A. Burch and CEO Robert A. Chrencik met with Hogan and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) for about an hour to discuss conflict of interest allegations that surfaced last week.

Three board members have resigned in the wake of those reports and four others have agreed to take a temporary leave of absence. The Baltimore Sun reported last week that nine of 30 medical system board members have financial ties to the organization, prompting criticism from Hogan and top legislators.

A Baltimore lawmaker has introduced legislation to prohibit “self-dealing,” and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) plans to introduce an emergency bill by week’s end to bring more transparency to the hospital system.

Burch said UMMS board members are well aware of the criticisms and are striving to address them.

“The board tomorrow will discuss in detail what we do to fix this going forward and to make sure things like this don’t happen again,” Burch told reporters.

He said Hogan and Miller are “very concerned” about reports that many board members have lucrative ties — service contracts, consulting gigs, a lucrative book-purchase arrangement and others — with the sprawling $4.4 billion network of hospitals.

“They had some very strong, positive views on what should happen next,” Burch said of state leaders, without elaborating.

Through staff, Miller declined to comment on the meeting Wednesday evening. Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said it was “a productive meeting.”

Hogan, Ricci said, underlined the importance of addressing the public outcry, and the leaders of UMMS expressed their commitment to act. We will work closely with the legislature on measures to improve oversight and accountability of the board.”

Earlier on Wednesday, numerous state leaders called for an outside audit of the board to determine how many cozy-seeming relationships exist.

Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) said it’s important that the public be told who knew and approved of the various arrangements.

“Give us an independent audit that asks, ‘Who knew what when about this,’” he said.

Earlier in the week, Chrencik pushed back against Sen. Jill P. Carter’s call for conflict of interest legislation, saying that the system would be “competitively harmed” if it could not tap business leaders for their expertise.

Burch seemed to distance himself from that view after meeting with the governor.

“We’re more concerned about the institution and its reputation than we are about people on the board or in management,” the chairman said. “The institution is paramount.”

Busch, a member of the UMMS board since 2003, was unable to attend the meeting in the governor’s office due to a follow-up procedure related to his 2017 liver transplant, he said in a statement.

“The problems surrounding the UMMS Board continue to concern me,” Busch wrote. “UMMS cannot regain the public’s trust without a full accounting. On Monday, I requested emergency legislation to bring more transparency to the hospital system and make reforms to the UMMS Board, that will be introduced at the end of this week.”

 

 

 

 

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.

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