Lawmakers sent a strong message to the University of Maryland Medical System and Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this week: There will be no rubber stamping and pushing through of new board members.
The Maryland Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee on Monday delayed voting on whether to confirm 18 appointees, most nominated by Mr. Hogan, until they can see results of a state audit. Lawmakers want to be able to thoroughly vet potential new members who would join the board less than a year after a self-dealing scandal resulted in the resignations, with the option to reapply, of all board members.
That is the kind of accountability that is needed, and was missing, when the medical system came under fire last year for working out no-bid contracts, with little or no scrutiny, with some of its board members, as revealed in an investigation by The Baltimore Sun, which found the system had contracts of some kind with a third of its members. Among those was former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, who sold her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to the medical system for hundreds of thousands of dollars. She pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion last month.
The senators are taking the right heavy-handed approach with the medical system, which has taken many steps to change its ways, including implementing new policies to strengthen accountability. For one, it adopted a conflict of interest policy that bars sole-source contracts with board members and prohibits personal services contracts with board members altogether. The CEO, general counsel, chief administrative officer, chief compliance officer and the chief performance improvement officer also resigned their jobs after the ordeal in a show that the system knew it needed to clean house to make things right.
But the board and the system still shouldn’t be left to police itself. Lawmakers are perfectly justified in making the system and the governor jump through justifiable hoops.
The lawmakers expressed particular concern about returning board members — including board chairman James “Chip” DiPaula Jr., vice chairman Alexander Williams Jr. and former state GOP chairman Louis Pope. The senators posed a valid question about why these board members weren’t aware of the insider procurement that brazenly took place at the medical system. They should push hard on that question until they get an answer that is satisfactory. The last thing anyone wants is for the same problems to reoccur and continue to exist because some of the same players kept their seats.
It also is a no-brainer for lawmakers to want to see the results of a state audit, which could uncover what previous board members knew about what was occurring at the system. The senators have no other choice, but to wait for such a report if they want to prove to Marylanders that they are doing their jobs under legislation created in the wake of the Healthy Holly scandal to put in a system of checks and balances at the hospital network.
As Senate President Bill Ferguson said:, “These are really important appointments and we’ve got to get them right.”
The medical system is playing its cards right, too. Officials there said they welcome the legislators taking all the time they need to be comfortable with the nominations. The original audit was due in December and postponed in March after auditors said the medical system was not cooperating, something officials there said was not true. We hope the auditors have been able to get the information they needed to get to the bottom of what happened at UMMS.
UMMS deserves the extra scrutiny, no matter how much they have shown they are willing to change. It takes time to build up trust in any broken relationship, and UMMS still has more work to do.