Now that Pugh has resigned, what about UMMS?

If anyone should be grateful for the Healthy Holly book scandal that engulfed former Mayor Catherine Pugh and led to her resignation last week, it’s got to be the other members of the University of Maryland Medical System board who also had contracts with the system, some worth far more money than Ms. Pugh got for her books. Yes, there are some hopeful signs that change is underway. Several members have resigned from the board (including three more this week), others have taken leaves of absence, and all of them appear likely to be replaced as a result of legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan this spring. And UMMS’ long-time (and highly paid) CEO Robert A. Chrencik resigned. But it will take sustained public and political pressure to fix the problems at the system that we’ve discovered so far, and neither the board members nor UMMS leadership have faced anywhere near the kind of scrutiny Ms. Pugh did.

With her out of office and her fate in the hands of state and federal investigators, that deserves to change. Not only does UMMS receive millions of dollars a year in state support, but it is a non-profit whose finances directly affect the cost of health care for thousands of Marylanders. As we speak, the University of Maryland Medical Center is seeking regulatory approval for an additional $75 million in billing under the state’s hospital rate-setting structure. Hospital officials insist that’s unrelated to the contracts. Good luck convincing the public of that.


As a reminder, here are the deals we know about:

» Former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly Jr.’s business, Kelly & Associates Insurance Group, was paid about $16 million from commissions, consulting fees and administrative costs for managing insurance and benefits for the system’s hospitals and medical centers. Mr. Kelly and his sons have taken leaves of absence from UMMS and affiliated boards.


» M&T Bank executive August J. Chiasera’s company had multiple deals with the system, totaling more than $7 million between 2017 and 2018. He has taken a leave of absence from the board.

» John W. Dillon’s company, Dillon Consulting, was paid $150,000 annually by UMMS for a “capital campaign and strategic planning.” Mr. Dillon resigned from the board in March.

» Wayne L. Gardner Sr.’s Best Care Ambulance Inc. had $100,000 contracts with UMMS in 2017 and 2018.

» Robert L. Pevenstein’s technology companies were paid $150,000 by UMMS in 2017, a figure that included $108,000 in pay for him. In 2018, his son was paid $100,000 by the system. He resigned from the board in March.

» Dr. Roger E. Schneider’s practice, Vascular Surgery Associates, had three contracts with the system in 2017, worth $300,000.

» James A. Soltesz’s company provided $100,000 in engineering services for the system in 2018. In contrast to other board members, he has offered a public explanation for his contract, saying it predated his time on the board, was competitively bid, and has nearly run its course. He said he welcomed a review and has taken a leave of absence from the board.

» Walter A. Tilley Jr.’s firm, Home Paramount Pest Control, was paid $160,000 by the system last year. He has also taken a leave of absence.

» Dr. Scott Rifkin, among the latest to resign, provided software to the system to help it reduce the readmission of patients. He provided it for free and says he did not intend ever to charge UMMS for it.


Two months after The Sun’s Luke Broawater first reported those contracts, there’s a lot we still don’t know about them or UMMS’ response.

For example, we know that UMMS paid Ms. Pugh $500,000 for her self-published books without following up about when, how — or whether — they were distributed. Did the system exert any tighter controls over the other board members’ contracts?

We know that Mr. Chrencik lost his job over the scandal, but has anyone else at UMMS faced personnel actions as a result of it? Documents released by Ms. Pugh show at least one other UMMS official — Senior Vice President Jerry Wollman — was involved in the initial book deal.

In response to questions from The Sun, UMMS did reiterate plans to release the results of the internal review that’s ongoing and to respond to its findings as necessary. But, amazingly, it still did not answer a question about which of the board members’ contracts were competitively bid and which weren’t.

UMMS needs a fresh start, and that means real transparency. We’re with Governor Hogan here — many of the existing board members may be completely innocent and have had no involvement or knowledge of the questionable deals the system entered into, but they need to go anyway. If UMMS hasn’t gotten the message yet that it needs a culture change, maybe a completely new board will get that across.