State auditors tasked with investigating the University of Maryland Medical System after a self-dealing scandal involving its board of directors have complained UMMS “delayed and hindered” their work, requiring an extension of their deadline to produce a report to the General Assembly.
“Throughout this process the Corporation has delayed and hindered our work by repeatedly failing to make employees available and failing to provide requested information on a timely basis,” Maryland Legislative Auditor Gregory Hook wrote Oct. 31 to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones in a letter obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
UMMS interim President and CEO John Ashworth responded that UMMS officials have “always endeavored to work collaboratively and transparently” with the Office of Legislative Audits and "look forward to the issuance of their report.”
“The scope of the OLA audit was comprehensive and required the commitment of countless labor hours and the production of many thousands of documents on the part of UMMS,” Ashworth said in a statement.
Lawmakers in Annapolis required Hook’s office to investigate the University of Maryland Medical System Corp. as part of legislation passed after The Sun reported beginning in March that a third of the 30-member board had lucrative contacts with the system — including then-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh. The hospital network paid the Democrat $500,000 for 100,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books.
The revelations, followed by FBI and Internal Revenue Service raids at City Hall and Pugh’s homes, led to Pugh’s resignation from office. At UMMS, CEO Robert Chrencik stepped down, as did several other executives, the board chairman and several other board members. The General Assembly passed a bill that required Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to replace the rest of the board by the end of the year.
UMMS is a private network of more than a dozen hospitals across Maryland. It receives substantial state funding, and its governance is controlled by top lawmakers and the governor. Ashworth became interim CEO when Chrencik left; Dr. Mohan Suntha, who has led the system’s University of Maryland Medical Center since 2016, will become the new, permanent CEO on Dec. 1.
Lawmakers ordered the investigation by the state Office of Legislative Audits as an independent alternative to an in-house audit by a UMMS contractor. That review, released in June, found many of the board-related contracts in question were reached without a competitive bidding process — including Pugh’s.
After The Sun inquired about the progress of the audit with one month remaining to the original Dec. 15 deadline, Hook provided copies of his October letter to the General Assembly’s presiding officers and their response granting the extension.
In the letter to Miller and Jones, both Democrats, Hook wrote the “field portion” of his office’s work concluded “with several questions still unanswered" despite efforts by Miller and Jones’ chiefs of staff to intervene and assist the auditors in getting UMMS officials to cooperate.
“Throughout this process the Corporation has delayed and hindered our work by repeatedly failing to make employees available and failing to provide requested information on a timely basis.”— Gregory Hook, Maryland legislative auditor
The Office of Legislative Audits still has "a significant amount of work that needs to be done prior to issuing a formal report, including finalizing the work papers, developing specific findings, developing the report format, writing the report, meeting with the Corporation to discuss the findings, and subjecting the project to the Office’s extensive internal quality assurance process,” Hook wrote.
Hook asked for an extension until March 13, three months past the original deadline, for his office to deliver the forensic audit to lawmakers. Miller and Jones granted that request earlier this month.
Hook declined to comment beyond what was outlined in his letter. Jake Weissmann, Miller’s chief of staff, also said “we’re going to let the letter speak for itself."
Alex Hughes, the House speaker’s chief of staff, declined to comment.
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Hogan’s office could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The state auditors began their field work at UMMS’ offices in April.
“We are actually out there doing the work,” Hook told The Sun in May.
In his recent letter, Hook said 37 staff members had collectively conducted 600 days of work covered by the review, while his office’s data analytics unit spent “countless days sifting and analyzing electronic records.”
During that work, Hook wrote, they “identified a number of transactions related either directly or indirectly" to current or former UMMS board members.
“For many months, our Office has been actively seeking access to Corporation employees with potential knowledge of the transactions and the related procurement and contract monitoring processes,” he wrote. “In addition, our Office has sought records related to these events, including original contract documents.”
Hook wrote that he hoped that even with the extension, the General Assembly would have time “to review the report and take any additional action it deems necessary” based on the findings. The new deadline falls in the middle of the 2020 legislative session, which runs from Jan. 8 to April 6.