ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed John Williams, CEO of Hagerstown’s Jamison Door Co., to the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors.
Williams told Herald-Mail Media that he was nominated for the board by Kimberly Burns, former president of Maryland Business for Responsive Government and current chief of staff for the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Hogan’s office announced the appointment Wednesday, as well as nine other appointments to the board. Hogan plans to make more appointments in the coming months.
A scandal involving self-dealing by some previous members of the UMMS board emerged earlier this year, resulting in the resignation of former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh from both the board and the office of mayor.
The scandal also resulted in new legislation by the Maryland General Assembly this year setting new ethical standards for the 30-member board and requiring the terms of all previous board members to end by January 2020, regardless of whether they were tainted by the scandal.
Board members were permitted to apply for reappointment.
One who didn’t seek reinstatement was Hagerstown attorney Bruce Poole, who said his second term on the board expired a year ago. He remained on the board waiting for Hogan to appoint a replacement. He still is a member of the board of visitors for the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Williams said his appointment “was out of the blue,” although he “had read a good deal” about the scandal involving the previous board and was asked what he knew about it during his interview.
An independent review of the board’s contracts, also released Wednesday, showed contracts awarded to board members — including Pugh — were not competitively bid, and there was a “pattern by management” of making decisions without full board approval.
UMMS agreed to pay Pugh $500,000 between 2010 and 2018 for her self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books — but those contracts were not brought before the board or any subcommittee for prior approval.
Several other board members reportedly had business contracts with UMMS.
Poole, who missed several board meetings last year because of knee surgery, said he “literally had no inkling anything was going on.” He first heard that “some people appeared to have a conflict of interest” when he returned in February for a subcommittee meeting, he said.
“Most of my two terms was pleasant but hardworking,” Poole said, requiring five hours a week of work. “There’s a lot that goes on” since the board oversees not only the university medical center, but a number of other institutions and affiliates. The quality of care provided by the system “was quite good,” he said.
But “these last couple of months have been horrendous,” Poole said. The scandal “shook the confidence of the public,” he said, and “it was quite a process to learn the facts and respond to elected officials.”
Once he returned, the legislation aimed at the board, sponsored by state Sen. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore City, “all the sudden took on a life of its own.” By the time the legislative session ended, he said he was not surprised that all current members — which at the time included late House Speaker Mike Busch — would be terminated.
“I don’t see anything wrong with (the legislation),” said Poole, a former House majority leader and former chairman of the state Democratic party. He saw the list of new appointees, and “I was particularly happy to see John Williams” was on it, he said.
Williams acknowledged that the board’s recent difficulties makes serving a little more of a challenge for the new members. But “it’s an honor to have been asked to serve,” he said, because “the system is so important to so many people.”
“I have no pre-conceived notions” of what the board will need to do going forward, he said. “I plan to listen and learn and ask a bunch of questions.” In light of recent events and the new legislation, one of those questions is, “How does this board operate publicly?” he said.
Williams said he also hopes there will be diversity among the new membership, and he believes his business experience “will have some value.”
Having served on the board for about 10 years, Poole said one of his biggest concerns is that rural hospitals and physician practices “are not doing well. We weren’t able to fix that problem.”
The problems encompass financial challenges and quality of care, he said.
“Many rural hospitals are struggling. They have difficulty recruiting young physicians and trouble with reimbursement rates. It’s a huge problem,” he said.
But he also sees that as an opportunity for Hogan and the board. “There’s no better thing he could do” than fix the rural health care challenge, Poole said.
And while he supports having a new board, Poole said it is important to have people involved with some institutional knowledge of the medical system.
“It’s a large and complicated system,” he said. “It’s not like you’re taking over a lemonade stand.”
Written by Tamela Baker, as featured in the Herald-Mail