The Maryland Health and Higher Educational Facilities Authority will be taking a “stronger look” at requests for financing from the University of Maryland Medical System.

During its October public meeting, the executive director of the authority, Annette Anselmi, told UMMS that “this is going to be part of a longer and stronger look at UMMS.” She made the statement as UMMS executives were present to seek approval to apply for $155 million in additional debt to fund the acquisition of the remaining 51 percent of the Upper Chesapeake Health System. UMMS currently owns 49 percent of Upper Chesapeake. UMMS is seeking this approval even as the system’s debts mount from the purchase of St. Joseph Hospital and as it has failed to build a promised hospital on the Eastern Shore.

The announced scrutiny of UMMS comes as the hospital system is the focus of an information campaign by the nurses and caregivers of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East to highlight its risky financial practices. The effort, which launched in August, has included billboard, radio, newspaper and online advertisements, as well as coverage by news organizations, including The Baltimore Sun. So far, the effort has revealed that UMMS, which receives nearly 58 percent of its revenues from tax dollars, has a multi-million dollar debt due to interest rate swaps that Robert Chrencik executed when he was CFO, and which continued after he became CEO of the statewide system in 2008. Now, while the system is paying millions to executives, it is laying off frontline healthcare workers.

The state authority, which consists of nine members, assists hospitals and higher educational institutions in the construction, financing and refinancing of projects it has approved.

While the authority did vote ultimately to approve the request, it was only after a rare questioning of the executive representing UMMS, Keith Persinger, senior vice president and chief financial officer of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Persinger was queried about whether the funds would actually be used to complete the acquisition, as stated on the published agenda for the meeting, or for an expansion or renovation. Persinger said that the money would be used for a project yet to be determined, either for a new tower at the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center or for a new hospital in Havre De Grace.

Persinger was accompanied by Joseph Hoffman, CFO of Upper Chesapeake Health System. During the questioning, board members were assured by Anselmi that this vote would be only a first step in the approval process.

After Sheila Riggs, chairwoman of the authority, announced approval for the application process to begin, Anselmi stated to Persinger and those present that “this is going to be part of a longer and stronger look at UMMS.”