Four top executives resign at UMMS amid controversy over board member contracts

Four top executives at the University of Maryland Medical System have resigned amid investigations into accusations of self-dealing among the hospital network’s board members, the system announced Thursday.

Those resigning are Megan Arthur, the system’s primary lawyer; Jerry Wollman, the chief administrative officer; Christine Bachrach, the system’s chief compliance officer; and Keith Persinger, the chief performance improvement officer.

Kristin Jones Bryce, once a top aide to late House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, was named the hospital network’s new chief of staff. The staffing changes are effective June 21.

“My goal is to create long-term, sustainable change that enhances our core mission of effectively serving the health care needs of the people of Maryland,” acting CEO John W. Ashworth III said in a statement. “I am grateful to each of these individuals for their contribution and tenured service to the organization. I am keenly focused on building a strong foundation for the future for our patients and team members.”

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The four executives could not be reached Thursday for comment. Ashworth did not release information about the terms of their departure or any severance they might receive.

The resignations come as Nygren Consulting of Santa Barbara, Calif., works to finish its examination of deals worth millions of dollars that led UMMS CEO Robert Chrencik and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign from their jobs.

The consulting firm was hired in April 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 Pugh for 100,000 of her self-published “Healthy Holly” books. The system’s payments to Pugh are the subject of criminal investigations by the FBI and Maryland state prosecutor.

The Nygren firm was charged with evaluating the medical system’s policies and procedures related to conflicts of interest and contracting. It is to deliver recommendations on how the board can better govern the 13-hospital system that generates $4.4 billion in annual revenue.

The UMMS board and executives oversee and guide policy for all of the hospitals, though each has its own executive staff and board that direct day-to-day operations. The resignations mean that the university medical system — one of Maryland’s largest private employers and the source of health care for millions of people across the state and region — will be led by an almost entirely new team.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh's 'Healthy Holly' scandal: a timeline »

A new law pushed by General Assembly leaders and Gov. Larry 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 not inclined to retain many, if any, of the current board members.

Last month, Ashworth traveled to Annapolis and pledged to make “significant changes” to senior staff. UMMS officials have been facing intense criticism since The Baltimore Sun reported in March that a third of the 30-member board had received contracts from the medical system they were charged with overseeing. Officials have acknowledged that some were no-bid deals, but have provided few details.

More: Given UMMS profits, critics ask why it's seeking to raise rates at flagship hospital »

In meetings with Hogan and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, Ashworth said the hospital network needs to undergo a “cultural shift” away from an environment in which board members won contracts for their private companies.

Ashworth said last month the Nygren report had “not been completed” and that he’d asked the company to be “much more precise and give us much more detail” than what was in an initial report. He said the firm was expected to submit a final report in June.

Last week, the hospital network adopted a new conflict-of-interest policy that bars it from granting sole-source contracts to board members or their businesses, and precludes it from having any business with certain board leaders.

Arthur oversaw all legal affairs across the system, managed all internal legal staff and supervised the use of external legal resources, according to the system’s website. She received board members’ financial disclosure forms, which listed contracts with the system, before they were filed with state regulators at the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission.

Arthur made about $725,000 last year.

Wollman was senior vice president and chief administrative officer at UMMS. In March, Pugh released a 2011 letter written by Wollman to Baltimore City Public Schools, asking for confirmation that the schools would accept a shipment of Pugh’s Healthy Holly books, which UMMS had bought.

Wollman was paid about about $650,000 last year.

Bachrach was vice president and chief compliance officer at UMMS, which she joined in 2010.

She has been “responsible for oversight of compliance across the system, including the development and implementation of new measures to improve the effectiveness of each hospital's regulatory compliance program,” according to the system.

She was not among the executives whose compensation was detailed in recent tax filings.

Persinger was senior vice president and chief performance improvement officer at UMMS. He has been with the system since 1993. He previously served as executive vice president, chief financial officer and chief operating officer of the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Persinger was paid more than $1 million in the year ending June 2018, according to the system’s tax filings.

Bryce has served as vice president of external affairs and systems integration at UMMS, which she joined in 2015. Her role has been to focus on policy, relationship building, and government affairs on behalf of the hospitals, the system said. She previously served for 10 years as the chief of staff to Busch, and before that as Busch’s legislative counsel. Bryce was not among the executives whose compensation was detailed in recent tax filings.

In addition to Bryce’s promotion to chief of staff, Ashworth also named her senior vice president of external affairs. That title was previously held by Mark Wasserman, a senior vice president at UMMS long influential in Maryland politics.

A spokesman for the hospital network declined to comment on Wasserman’s status with the organization. Wasserman did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Wasserman, who was close to Pugh and worked on her campaign and transition team, is a longtime political operative in Maryland who got his start working under former Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer. He made nearly $510,000 last year.

Ashworth also announced that Kate McCann, the system’s chief human resources officer, would now report directly to him.

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