A Maryland Senate committee had tough questions Monday night as its members vetted more than a dozen nominees to the University of Maryland Medical System board ― part of the fallout over a self-dealing scandal that rocked the hospital network last year.
Members of the Senate’s Executive Nominations Committee are considering 18 appointees to the board, most of whom were nominated by Gov. Larry Hogan after the General Assembly last year passed sweeping reform legislation that forced all the board members to resign and reapply for their posts.
The board has been under intense scrutiny since March when The Baltimore Sun reported that a third of its 30 members had deals with the 13-hospital system, some not competitively bid.
One of those deals was with then-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a Democrat who made hundreds of thousands of dollars selling her “Healthy Holly” children’s books to the system. She resigned from the board in March and as mayor in May, and pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion last month.
While most new board nominees received praise from the senators, the toughest questions came for three returning board members nominated by Hogan, a Republican. They were pressed why they didn’t take action to stop the insider contracting.
“How could you pass a budget and not know there was no competitive bidding going on?” Sen. Delores Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, asked of Louis Pope, a former state GOP chairman.
Pope, who served on the board during the scandal, denied knowledge of any insider dealing. He told the senators of his experience in running a real state business and said he knows how to ensure sound fiscal management, but was never made aware of the insider contracts.
“We were all shocked and aghast when we read it in the paper,” Pope said. He noted that top managers have left the organization since the scandal.
State lawmakers passed legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jill P. Carter and late House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, last year after the “Healthy Holly” scandal mandating several reforms, including requiring the resignations of all board members. The scandal led to UMMS CEO Robert Chrencik and four others resigning from their jobs.
“The entire hierarchy of UMMS changed," Pope said Monday. "Swift and dramatic changes were made.”
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Board chairman James “Chip” DiPaula Jr. and vice chairman Alexander Williams Jr., who also are nominated to return to the board, similarly denied knowledge of the insider deals.
“It was completely unknown to the board,” DiPaula said. “Management did not bring that to the board.”
Sen. Clarence Lam, a Howard County Democrat, asked repeatedly whether the hospital network was fully compliant with a legally mandated audit after the state’s top legislative auditor said the hospital network was “hindering” his work.
DiPaula insisted the hospitals have “turned over thousands of documents.”
“We know we have a lot to prove,” he said.
Board members can serve up to two five-year terms. Senate committee members are expected to vote on the appointees next week, and then forward those they approve to the full Senate.
“With all the smart people we’ve been introduced to today I know that could never happen again,” Kelley said of the scandal.