The acting chief executive of the University of Maryland Medical System went to Annapolis on Thursday and pledged to make “significant changes” to senior staff after a self-dealing scandal rocked the hospital network.
Between meetings with Gov. Larry Hogan and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, CEO John W. Ashworth III said the hospital network needs to undergo a “cultural shift” away from an environment in which board members won contracts for their private companies.
“I continue to evaluate our organization,” Ashworth told reporters. “A lot of what we have witnessed relative to board behavior, that’s been in part a culture that needed to be tightened up.”
Ashworth said reforms would include a restructuring of the organization affecting top personnel.
“I will be making some significant changes,” Ashworth said. “I want to emphasize accountability.”
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor and Ashworth met for about 45 minutes.
“Mr. Ashworth provided an update on the medical system's ongoing review of its policies and practices,” Ricci said. “The governor appreciates the steps UMMS is taking to restore public trust, and will continue to hold its leaders accountable.”
Jones said Ashworth provided her with an update on the UMMS corporate governance audit, which was required by emergency legislation passed by the General Assembly.
“It sounds like they are taking this initial audit seriously — conducting dozens of interviews and reviewing extensive documentation,” Jones said. “I look forward to seeing the final report with a more detailed explanation of the findings in the next few weeks.”
The meetings came after the medical system board met in closed session in Baltimore to hear preliminary findings from Nygren Consulting, which is examining deals worth millions of dollars that led UMMS CEO Robert Chrencik to resign. Several board members, including Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, also resigned as directors. Pugh later stepped down as mayor.
The California-based consulting firm was hired in April by the UMMS board to document, review and determine “the legality” of contracts the medical system awarded to board members.
They included the $500,000 UMMS paid Pugh for 100,000 of her self-published Healthy Holly books.
Nygren was charged with evaluating the medical system’s policies and procedures related to conflicts of interest and contracting. And it is to deliver recommendations on improvements UMMS can make to how the board governs the hospital system, which generates $4.4 billion in annual revenue.
Ashworth said the Nygren report has “not been completed” and he is asking the company to be “much more precise and give us much more detail than what was in the initial report.”
He said the firm is expected to submit a final report in June.
The acting CEO also said the board gave preliminary approval Thursday to a “very significant conflict of interest policy” that will be released publicly before the end of the month.
The Baltimore Sun reported in March that nine members of the UMMS board of directors have business deals with the hospital network that are worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each.
The revelation of insider contracting practices at the medical system board was met with widespread condemnation.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Democrat, called the actions a “huge disaster” of “self-dealing.” Hogan, a Republican, termed the contracting practices “unseemly” and “appalling.” And the late House Speaker Michael Busch, who sponsored emergency legislation to reform the board, said he and some other board members were never informed of the contracts and he was shocked to learn of the deals.
A new law pushed by General Assembly leaders and Hogan requires all of the system’s board members to step down by the end of the year, to be reappointed or replaced by the governor.
Hogan has said he is inclined to replace many, if not all, of the current board members.