ANNAPOLIS — The General Assembly is moving closer to passing legislation that will place stricter ethics requirements on the University of Maryland Medical System Board of Directors.
The Senate, however, passed a version Thursday that differs in a number of ways from a House version approved unanimously the previous day, including online reporting and provisions to replace the entire board over a three-year period.
While both proposals contain audit requirements and prohibitions on board members seeking to do business with the system, neither bill calls for measures that would open the operations of the board to wider public scrutiny.
“We’re going to tweak how things are done there,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “We’re going to keep the structure in place but make sure there is transparency so the public, who we work for, has confidence in the medical system.”
The bills focused on the University of Maryland Medical System do not directly affect operations at the system’s affiliate hospitals. Miller said those facilities likely have their own problems should take the opportunity to self-cleanse.
“If they followed the example of the big board I’m sure there are similar situations,” said Miller. “I’m sure there is. There’s no question about it.”
“We haven’t heard about the problems,” said Miller. “I think everybody should re-evaluate their boards going forward, maybe give them an opportunity for self-cleansing.”
The “tweaks” started as part of a bill introduced by Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore.
“The impetus, the motivation for this bill was I wanted to ensure there were fair opportunities for minorities in dealing with the University of Maryland Medical System. When we see self-dealing and greed as we have, it forecloses opportunities for people in Baltimore.”
Since then, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a member of the UMMS board, has acknowledged she received $500,000 in a no-contract agreement with the system for a children’s book series called “Healthy Holly.”
Pugh has since resigned from the board along with two other members — strategic planning consultant John W. Dillon and workforce consultant Robert L. Pevenstein. Both Dillon and Pevenstein had contracts with the system.
Four others — August J. Chiasera, former state senator and insurance broker Francis X. Kelly, James A. Soltesz and Walter A. Tilley Jr. — have taken voluntary leaves of absence because of potential conflicts of interest.
Kelly, an insurance broker, has millions of dollars in health insurance contracts with the medical system and its affiliate hospitals. His sons have also taken leave of their positions on boards of affiliate hospitals.
UMMS Chief Executive Officer Robert Chrencik also has taken a leave of absence.
Carter expressed shock over the actions of the last few weeks, saying, “We never could have fathomed, we never could have envisioned” the fallout from her bill.
The Senate and House versions both contain provisions calling for an independent audit of the University of Maryland Medical System as well as requirements that board members file financial disclosures and disclose any business relationships with the medical system. Additionally, board members would be barred from sole-source contracting with the system and from using their position on the board to financially benefit themselves or others.
The board could also see some changes in membership under both proposals. The House version calls for terms of half of the current board members to terminate on June 1. The terms for the balance of the board would end on Oct. 1. Those board members could apply for reappointment.
The Senate version calls for the replacement of one-third of the board in July, one-third in October and the balance in January. Board members would be limited to no more than two 5-year terms. Pugh had been on the board for 18-plus years before resigning, and others have also had lengthy stints on the panel.
Other key differences in the Senate bill include:
- Requiring board members’ financial disclosures to be published online. The House version requires they be filed with the Health Care Services Review Commission and available to the public at the office.
- Requiring newly appointed board members to file financial disclosures within 60 days.
- Giving the governor the power to remove board members for willfully filing a false disclosure.
- Prohibiting UMMS from awarding a contract preference for a bidder affiliated with a board member.
- Strengthening audit requirements.
Neither bill contains provisions that would allow the public to review contracts or even attend meetings of the board, which Miller called a “quasi-state, public entity.” The medical system has refused to provide the public with documentation on deals with board members, contracts, board minutes or even to disclose who attended various meetings.
The House version, passed unanimously Wednesday night, moves to the Senate where it will likely be amended to resemble the Senate bill. The Senate proposal, also passed unanimously Thursday, moves to the House.
The General Assembly session ends April 8.