Selection of Md. Blues chief near Jews is top contender

search raises concern

February 16, 1993|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Staff Writer

William L. Jews, a prominent Baltimore business leader and hospital executive, is the leading candidate to head the embattled Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland and could be named to the top post as early as today).

However, his selection last week by a special search committee of the Blues' board has created concerns inside the company and among some lawmakers in Annapolis over the way the search was conducted.

Mr. Jews is to be introduced to the full board today during an informal luncheon given by the search committee, said Frank A. Gunther Jr., chairman of the Blues board. A vote on his selection had been planned for the board's next regular meeting Feb. 25.

But that vote could come today. Because of concerns raised by supporters of two other candidates and the fact that the names of candidates is beginning to seep out, the board first will review the selection process today, Mr. Gunther said. If the board is satisfied -- and Mr. Gunther said he was -- and a majority of directors is present, the board could then decide to vote on the candidate at the same time. Mr. Gunther said he could not predict what would happen and noted that today's meeting originally was intended as an informal opportunity to meet the candidates.

Mr. Jews, 41, is chief executive officer of Dimensions Health Corp. in Landover, which operates Prince George's Hospital Center, Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital, nursing homes and a medical center in Bowie.

He earlier worked in Baltimore. In the 1980s, Mr. Jews took over the old Provident hospital and helped build what is today Liberty Medical Center. He serves on the boards of Maryland National Bank and the Abell Foundation and in recent years has played an active role in the Greater Baltimore Committee, including chairing its life-sciences project, the main economic development initiative of the GBC.

Mr. Jews could not be reached for comment.

The decision comes a week after another leading candidate, Barbara Hill, president of Prudential Health Care Plan, withdrew from consideration.

Ms. Hill confirmed yesterday her decision to withdraw. "I was very flattered to be considered, but I was recently promoted within Prudential to head the mid-Atlantic region, and after much reflection I decided I wanted to stay on that track," she said.

Ms. Hill and Mr. Jews were among an unknown number of candidates interviewed by the board in a search that has moved exceedingly quickly. The search committee first met in January to choose a successor to Carl J. Sardegna, who resigned Dec. 4. Mr. Sardegna's departure followed a string of embarrassing revelations, some from a U.S. Senate investigation, that the state's largest health insurer was poorly managed and dangerously close to insolvency.

Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., chairman of the House Economic vTC Matters Committee, which is considering a bill to reform Blue Cross, said he has heard many concerns about the selection process from people inside and out of the company beginning last Thursday.

Yesterday, the Democrat from Allegany County questioned Blue Cross Chairman Gunther about whether all potential candidates had been considered. "I wasn't concerned about the number of candidates as much as making sure they were all looked at," the lawmaker said.

"I am satisfied the search process has been handled correctly, Mr. Taylor said. He said he was also concerned about executive salaries, and that Mr. Gunther assured him the board is using strict Blue Cross and Blue Shield guidelines.

Richard Hug, who chaired the directors' search committee fo the Blues, declined to identify the candidates. But Mr. Hug, who is president of Environmental Elements Inc., defended the process, saying up to four dozen candidates have been considered, including executives from other Blue Cross plans who were recommended by a consultant.

He declined to name the consultant or discuss what the panel was looking for in a CEO beyond someone with a strong management background, operational and interpersonal skills, and political savvy.

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