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UMMS President Takes Leave Of Absence, Board Starts Review Of Contractual Relationships

Patrick Semansky

The University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors has asked its president and chief executive officer to take a temporary leave of absence and said it will hire an outside firm to conduct an “exhaustive” review of its contractual relationships.

The moves came after an emergency Thursday meeting when the UMMS board asked the president, Robert A. Chrencik, to begin his leave of absence Monday.

Chairman Stephen A. Burch said in a statement that board members voted unanimously to hire a legal firm to conduct an ‘exhaustive review and assessment” of its members business relationships with the hospital system. The search for the firm will begin immediately.

“The status of the affected board members who currently have business relationships will remain intact while each agreement is being reviewed,” the statement says.

The announcements come in the wake of a conflict-of-interest controversy surrounding a children’s health book deal made during Mayor Catherine Pugh’s time on the board.

Pugh joined the board in 2001. A decade later in 2011, the then-state Senator Pugh registered “Healthy Holly LLC.” That year, UMMS purchased 20,000 “Healthy Holly” books that Pugh says were donated to city schools and daycares. The system purchased several more orders until 2018. All told, UMMS spent $500,000 on Pugh’s books.

On Monday, the Baltimore Sun reported that 8,700 copies of “Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow” were sitting unread in a warehouse owned by the Baltimore City schools. The next day, the paper reported that Healthy Holly has donated $7,040 in state political contributions since 2015 — including $5,000 to Pugh’s own mayoral campaign.

In his statement, Burch said two other board members who have had business relationships with UMMS — John Dillon and Robert Pevenstein — resigned Tuesday. Four other members with contracts were placed on temporary leave.

Mayor Pugh resigned from the UMMS board on Monday. After cancelling a weekly Wednesday press conference, the first-term Democrat released a statement Thursday.

“As many people know, I am very interested in health and fitness – particularly as it relates to our children. They may not know that I have been a publisher since 1979 and an author for 25 years,” Pugh’s statement opens.

“Despite all that has happened, I am glad that the important messages in the book reached our city’s children. I never thought this would lead to today, and I understand how it may look to some,” she wrote.

She said she has resigned from the board and updated her old state Senate financial disclosure forms “upon learning that these transactions were disclosed on one set of forms but not another.” 

“I’m not sure why this oversight occurred, but it has been corrected,” her statement says. Pugh also wrote that she returned the most recent “Healthy Holly” payment and “like any other small business owner” reported that revenue on her tax return.

Pugh says she will “keep working to improve the health of children in our city” and keep writing – “with this experience in mind.”

Meanwhile, the General Assembly is moving on the issue. Mike Busch, speaker of the House of Delegates, introduced legislation Wednesday that would require an independent audit of the financial management of the system. It also calls for state Senate confirmation of the governor’s appointees to the board.

In addition, state Senator Jill Carter has introduced companion legislation in the upper chamber.