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MetroHealth CEO fired for paying himself $1.9M in bonuses, vows legal fight

Dr. Akram Boutros gave himself bonuses over four years without disclosing the payments, the MetroHealth board said. A lawyer for Boutros says the firing is retaliatory after he planned to expose misconduct by the board.

The MetroHealth board of trustees said it fired MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros after discovering he paid himself more than $1.9 million in bonuses without disclosing the payments to the board.

MetroHealth said Boutros was terminated after an outside investigation revealed Boutros gave himself bonuses over a four-year period without notifying the board, the Cleveland-based system said in a news release .

The board received the results of an investigation into the compensation by an outside law firm on Saturday. The board said it voted Monday night to terminate Boutros’ employment “for reasons”.

“We all recognize the wonderful things Dr. Boutros has done for our hospital and for the community,” Vanessa Whiting, chair of MetroHealth’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “However, we know of no organization that allows its CEO to self-evaluate and determine their right to an additional bonus and at what amount, as Dr. Boutros did.”

Boutros plans to take legal action over the firing. An attorney for Boutros contends Boutros’ termination was retaliatory and in response to his exposure of board misconduct in the improper hiring of a new CEO, WJW-TV in Cleveland and Cleveland.com reported Tuesday.

MetroHealth announced in September that Airica Steed had been appointed as the organization’s next president and CEO. Boutros previously announced in November 2021 that he plans to retire at the end of this year.

Whiting said in a statement Tuesday that Boutros’ allegations are “false and a distraction from the facts we previously communicated on the issue.”

Grounds for termination

MetroHealth said Boutros, by his own admission, established benchmarks to measure his performance, conducted his own evaluation of his performance relative to those benchmarks and paid himself more than $1.9 million from 2017 to 2021.

The system said the board did not authorize Boutros to perform such a self-assessment and had no knowledge of the payments.

MetroHealth’s board said Boutros’ contract clearly states that the board determines Boutros’ compensation. Only the board can determine Boutros’ compensation, including bonuses, and the board is the only authority that can set performance metrics that determine compensation, Whiting said.

MetroHealth’s board demanded repayment of the bonuses. On Oct. 31, Boutros repaid $2.1 million, which represented the supplemental bonus money, and more than $124,000 in interest, the system said.

Boutros told the board at a public meeting that he disclosed the matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission on Nov. 1, the day after he returned the money, the system said.

“We stand ready to cooperate with any investigative authorities as we continue our internal investigation,” Whiting said in the statement.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said Tuesday that his office “is in contact with the Ohio Ethics Commission to review the case,” but did not comment further, Cleveland.com reported.

Boutros did not disclose his full compensation to the board and did not present the information to a consultant hired to review and assess the CEO’s compensation, the board said.

MetroHealth’s board engaged a law firm, Tucker Ellis, to investigate the bonus payments.

Nabil Chehade will assume the CEO’s duties on an interim basis.

Airica Steed, currently executive vice president/system chief operating officer of Sinai Chicago Health System and president of Mount Sinai and Sinai Children’s Hospital, will take over as president and CEO on Dec. 5.

Steed was chosen to succeed Boutros, who planned to retire at the end of the year, the system said. MetroHealth announced her selection as the next CEO in September.

Legal battle is coming

Conversely, Boutros’ lawyer said the firing was punishment and Boutros would take his case to court.

Jason Bristol, a Cleveland-based attorney representing Boutros, issued a statement saying the termination was retaliatory, WJW-TV reports. The attorney said the board’s statement “is full of misinformation and outright lies.”

“The MetroHealth board’s action yesterday is the latest in a series of retaliatory actions against Dr. Boutros after he raised the issue of the unauthorized appointment of the new CEO,” Bristol said in the statement.

“He revealed that the board members engaged in serial deliberations outside of public meetings and that the chairman signed agreements and authorized payments without the board’s approval,” Bristol said in the statement.

“The chairman led a retaliation charge against him for blowing the whistle on these practices,” Bristol said in the statement.

Boutros was improperly targeted for receiving bonuses that other employees received, and only Boutros was forced to repay the bonuses, Bristol said.

MetroHealth said it has added safeguards related to paying bonuses.

MetroHealth operates four hospitals and dozens of care sites in and around Cleveland. The system employs 8,000 workers. MetroHealth serves more than 300,000 patients, and about two-thirds are uninsured or covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

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