Most of the media coverage of the lengthy scandal involving corrupt, self-dealing activities at the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) focused on former Mayor Catherine Pugh, who is currently packing her things for a three year stretch in the crowbar motel. But right from the beginning, the Baltimore Sun uncovered more shady activity involving many other members of the UMMS Board of Directors. Many of the board’s 30 members resigned almost immediately after the news broke, so it wasn’t hard to imagine that they were feeling the heat over some of their own activities as well.
After one year of investigation, the local media seems to have tracked down the full extent of all of the dubious activity. Amazingly (or perhaps not that amazing if you’re familiar with Baltimore politics), 27 of the UMMS board’s 30 members had direct ties to companies with business before the board that received a staggering total of $115M dollars, frequently in no-bid contract awards. And those are just the figures on the books shown to the public. (Baltimore Sun)
The state’s Office of Legislative Audits, which conducted the probe after a corruption scandal rocked the hospital network in 2019, sent the findings of the 100-page review Friday to key lawmakers in Annapolis. The auditors did not identify board members by name ― and said they could not definitively determine any transactions were “improper” ― but did include a detailed list of payments made to board members they called “vendors.”
System officials took issue with some aspects of the review, arguing auditors counted many aboveboard transactions as conflicts, including dues the network paid to a statewide healthcare association; redacted board member and business names unnecessarily; and falsely accused UMMS of being uncooperative.
They acknowledged the hospital system has worked to reform since last year’s scandal and noted it is focused now on fighting the spread of the new coronavirus.
The results of the probe don’t exactly offer much in the way of transparency. For one thing, they aren’t releasing to the public the names of the specific board members involved nor even the names of the companies they were connected with. Further, the public records published about UMMS finances don’t match the actual records the probe uncovered in terms of many details.
The probe cites one example of a board member who claimed to have only been on the board since June of 2016 so he felt he shouldn’t have to provide any records from earlier years. They discovered that he’d actually been a board member since 1984. In other words, it appears that the UMMS was keeping two sets of books. One of them was clearly designed for public consumption and the other held the details of what was really going on.
There’s another reason for Baltimore’s residents to not get their hopes up for any sort of accountability and justice in this matter. A number of those big payments made to companies with ties to board members clearly stink to high heaven, but they may turn out to have been completely legal. Under the old rules, there were very few restrictions in place as to who could qualify for contracts with the system and how closely they were regulated and monitored. New reforms passed last year in the wake of the Pugh scandal have changed that, but at the time of the deals, there may have been no rules or laws prohibiting the various board members from cashing in.
It’s become increasingly obvious that the University of Maryland Medical System was being used as a piggy bank for Charm City’s politically powerful and influential figures. Landing a spot on the UMMS Board of Directors appears to have been a coveted arrangement that opened the door to all sorts of financial “opportunities.” Small wonder that so many members of the board were career politicians with little to no experience in medicine or the healthcare industry.
The rot in Baltimore was most obvious in City Hall, but it clearly expanded far out from there. And many of these politicians were cashing in handsomely at the same time that the city was falling further and further into decay and lawlessness. For those of you who may not have heard me say this before, it probably bears repeating. If you ever watched and enjoyed the classic HBP series The Wire, you should be aware that it was far more of a documentary than a drama.