Political biases aside, the transition process for the new administration—both as to President Donald Trump and to his Cabinet nominees and White House advisers—does a great service for nonprofit health systems by highlighting critical conflict of interest concerns.
Recent headlines over the last month provide health system general counsel with a rare opportunity to offer practical board education based on current events. The president’s personal asset divestiture plan, announced on January 11, along with the broader public scrutiny of key administration members’ business and investment interests, present an important teaching moment on identifying, resolving and managing conflict of interest issues. At the same time, the concern is that this coverage also serves to heighten the sensitivity of regulators, the media and constituent groups to how conflicts of interest groups are addressed at a corporate board level.
Neither the particulars of the administration’s potential conflict issues nor the details or adequacy of the president’s divestiture plan are necessarily the subject of board education. Instead, the basic nature of the issues themselves provide something of a checklist that can help health system boards ensure that their internal conflict of interest policies and processes are as fulsome as possible. The issues also warrant greater board education on the scope and strictures of the core duty of loyalty. As the general counsel is well aware, strong conflict of interest protocols are increasingly critical to protecting the reputation of the organization and its board members, and to sustaining key business arrangements.