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Suntha to be CEO, president of new University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center

A day after the  three parties involved in the sale of St. Joseph Medical Center to the University of Maryland Medical System said the deal is expected to close on Dec. 1, the bridge board for the newly formed University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center said Thursday that Dr. Mohan Suntha would be president and chief executive officer of the hospital.

Suntha is vice chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Professor of Radiation Oncology and associate director of clinical affairs at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.

“I have had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Suntha for the past five years and have worked very closely with him over the last year while negotiating the purchase of St. Joseph Medical Center,” said former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly,  and the newly named chairman of the board of the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center Board of Directors.

In his capacity as vice president for system program development for UMMS,  Suntha has been part of the UMMS transition team working on the acquisition of St. Joseph Medical Center from Catholic Health Initiatives.

On Wednesday, St. Joseph board members and the hospital’s current owner, Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives, announced that regulatory papers had been filed with the Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory agencies and were pending final approval, expected by the end of the month.

At that time, the transfer of assets of St. Joseph to UMMS is expected to take place, an announcement from UMMS officials said.

The 263-bed community hospital located in Towson has been the center of controversy since 2009. That’s when a scandal involving St. Joseph’s former lead cardiologist, Dr. Mark Midei, erupted after hundreds of his former patients filed lawsuits against the hospital claiming they had received heart stents during surgeries they did not need.

Midei resigned from St. Joseph and his medical license was revoked by the Maryland Board of Physicians.

He filed a $60 million defamation lawsuit against the hospital that was dismissed by Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Mickey J. Norman in April.

St. Joseph was founded in 1864 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and was then known as St. Joseph German Hospital. It moved to its current location at 7601 Osler Drive in 1965.

Officials have said that the purchase of St. Joseph by UMMS will lead to upgraded facilities and an extension of certain medical specialties into the suburban location. UMMS currently oversees 12 hospitals in Maryland with a total of 2,300 licensed beds. It employs 15,000 workers and has annual operating revenues of nearly $3 billion.

To accommodate the deal, UMMS formed the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center LLC. That group will take over all operations at the hospital, overseeing about 2,000 current St. Joseph employees after the sale has closed.

In addition to naming Kelly board chair, the UMMS officials said the vice chairman of the new board will be Towson attorney Edward Gilliss, currently chair of the St. Joseph Medical Center board.  Kelly has been a member of the UMMS board since 1984 and chairs the UMMS Hospital Affiliations Committee.

The sale to UMMS was announced in mid-March after a series of high-level, expedited meetings between the board of St. Joseph and three local hospitals interested in the purchase — UMMS, LifeBridge Health, which owns Sinai Hospital and Northwest Hospital, and St. Agnes Hospital.

The St. Joseph board had to sell the hospital because it had slid into desperate financial straits in part because of the Midei controversy and lawsuits.

Last November the hospital agreed to pay a $22 million settlement after federal officials said that over a decade, St. Joseph officals had paid illegal kickbacks to MidAtlantic Cardiovascular Associates, a group co-founded by Midei, and separately billed federal benefit programs for the medically unnecessary stents.

In addition, 17 employees at St. Joseph were laid off in January.

As part of the deal to sell the community hospital to the academic teaching hospital downtown, UMMS agreed to honor the Catholic identity and religious heritage of St. Joseph Medical Center, sources said.

Yet the selection of UMMS in March as the new owner brought a strong response from then-Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, who until May was head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

O’Brien said in a statement that he was “disappointed” with the selection of UMMS “given the high priority we place on maintaining the Catholic identity of our many institutions in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

“The hospital and its staff of outstanding doctors, nurses, physicians and other healthcare workers, have a special connection to the Catholic community in the Archdiocese, as well as to countless others, and I pray these ties will not be severed by today’s decision,” the statement said.

“It is my hope and prayer that the future of the hospital will continue to reflect the values that have been the hallmark of St. Joseph’s for nearly 150 years: reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence. Deeply disappointed though we are, I am confident that this Archdiocese will do everything possible in the months and years ahead to make it so. St. Joseph’s, like all Catholic institutions that care for others, do so not because those they serve are Catholic, but because we are.”

UMMS began talks to buy the beleaguered community hospital this spring

The sale recently was slowed by ongoing talks between state and federal health officials regarding changes to hospital reimbursement rates. The rates, set as part of Maryland’s Medicare waiver program, emerged this fall as a focal point in the negotiations.

Under the federal waiver, a state commission sets a uniform payment rate for each of the state’s hospitals as long as Maryland’s average hospital costs grow less than average hospital costs nationwide. Such a unique rate-setting plan is now under threat because of reported growth in the state’s hospital costs, records show.

Loss of the Medicaid waiver could cause a sharp reduction in a key Medicare reimbursement rate that was factored heavily into the initial offer for St. Joseph from UMMS, sources told The Daily Record last month.