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Nygren Consulting of Santa Barbara, CA., will examine deals worth millions of dollars that led Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and two other board members to resign their seats and caused four others to agree to take voluntary leaves of absence.

The independent consulting firm hired to untangle the ethical knots caused by insider contracts between the University of Maryland Medical System and several of its board members is scheduled to begin its work on Tuesday.

Nygren Consulting of Santa Barbara, Calif., will examine deals worth millions of dollars that led Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and two other board members to resign their seats and caused four others to agree to take voluntary leaves of absence. The remaining board also placed UMMS CEO Robert Chrencik on temporary leave.

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“This is a very difficult time as a consequence of this, a very challenging time,” the medical system’s interim CEO, John W. Ashworth III, said in an interview. “There is nothing that would suggest to me there is any illegal activity going on within the medical system.”

The consulting firm was hired by the UMMS board of directors to document, review and determine “the legality” of the contracts awarded to board members, including the $500,000 UMMS paid to Pugh for 100,000 Health Holly books, Ashworth said.

Health provider Kaiser Permanente paid Mayor Catherine Pugh more than $100,000 for about 20,000 copies of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books during a period in which the company was seeking a lucrative contract to provide health benefits to city employees.

Nygren has also been charged with evaluating the medical system’s policies and procedures related to conflicts of interest and contracting, and will deliver recommendations on any improvements UMMS can make to how the board governs the 13-hospital system that generates $4.4 billion in annual revenue.

Ashworth said the review would be conducted in a “timely” manner and the final report would be delivered first to Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch before it is released to the public. He did not have an exact date of delivery.

Ashworth, who has worked for the medical system throughout its nearly four-decade expansion, said UMMS leaders and its 28,000 employees are continuing to deliver the highest-quality medical care despite the questions swirling around the board.

“We do so with a sense of optimism that we’re going to get through all of this and come out as a better organization in the end and ultimately be able to restore the public trust which has been affected as a consequence of the board dynamics,” he said.

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