UMMS Officials Urge Lawmakers to Move With Care on Ethics Reform Legislation

University of Maryland Medical System officials at a House hearing in March. From left are Kristin Jones Bryce, Donna L. Jacobs and Mark L. Wasserman. File photo

Top officials of the University of Maryland Medical System came under sharp criticism from state lawmakers Friday, as members of a key committee began considering legislation that would prohibit financial arrangements between the institution and members of its board.

No UMMS board members attended the House Health and Government Operations Committee’s hearing on ethics reform legislation. Nor did the medical system’s long-serving president and CEO, who was asked Thursday to take a temporary leave of absence in the wake of allegations that members of the board engaged in “self-dealing.”

Instead, it fell to a trio of top system officials to absorb the expressions of disapproval from state lawmakers. One after another, legislators from both parties expressed disappointment and anger that a system best known for life-saving medical treatment — including Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan’s fight against cancer — could have run amok in so seedy a fashion.

Alexandra Hughes (left), House Speaker Michael E. Busch’s chief of staff, and House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) at Friday’s House Health and Government Operations Committee’s hearing on ethics reform legislation. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

“To everyone who has learned about this scandal, it’s shocking,” said Del. Nicholaus Kipke (R-Anne Arundel). “And it seems to me, having served on nonprofit boards, that someone had to look the other way. What I want to know is who looked the other way.”

Three board members — including Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh — have resigned from the UMMS board since the scandal surfaced, and four others have taken a leave of absence pending a review of their financial ties to the sprawling $4.4 billion network of hospitals.

Kipke said it’s not just “some of the names that have been mentioned that cause us concern, because we know so many of these people,” it’s that the system “let us down.”

“We don’t have all of the facts of the situation,” said Kristin Jones Bryce, UMMS’ head of external affairs and system integration. “There is a desire in our board and among our leadership to find out exactly what happened.”

Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) has introduced emergency legislation [HB 1428] to require an audit of the medical system’s business dealings with its board members and to prohibit such arrangements in the future. It also prohibits the use of sole-source contracts, in which firms and individuals are hired without a competitive bid process.

Donna L. Jacobs, a UMMS vice president, said the system supports “the spirit of the bill.”

She said the board has already found six firms willing to conduct “an outside, independent” review of the board’s actions, and that one will be hired soon.

Jones urged lawmakers to craft ethics and procurement reform legislation with care.

“Not every business interest or financial interest is considered a conflict of interest,” she said.

Some lawmakers said it was a mistake for the board’s chairman, Stephen A. Burch, not to attend the hearing on Busch’s bill.

Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), chairwoman of the Health and Government Operations Committee, said the panel will consider amendments and vote on the measure next week.

The General Assembly adjourns April 8.

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