Dr. Akram Boutros, who was fired Monday night, Nov. 21, as CEO of MetroHealth over what the system describes as premium pay abuse, claims he did “nothing wrong here” and instead became a victim of retribution. for the Board of Trustees’ exposure of practices involving the hiring of his successor.
“I am absolutely certain that I will be acquitted,” Boutros said during an interview at the Crain office on Tuesday afternoon, November 22. He added, “I have absolutely nothing to hide.”
Boutros, accompanied by his attorney Jason R. Bristol of Cohen Rosenthal & Kramer LLP, said he was “totally overwhelmed” by the bonus claims when the allegations were presented to him in October. He also detailed why, in his opinion, the bonus payments were made in full accordance with the directives of the board of directors.
Boutros said the firing, which was announced in a statement released at 10:00 p.m. Monday, is retaliation for questioning whether MetroHealth board members violated state sunlight laws by discussing hiring his successor, a Chicago healthcare veteran. Airiki Steed – Outside social gatherings. He also said chairwoman Vanessa Whiting signed agreements and authorized payments without board approval.
Boutros was scheduled to stay at MetroHealth until the end of the year. Steed, whose hiring was announced On September 22, he is due to take over as CEO of MetroHealth on December 5. Dr. Nabil Chehade has been named interim CEO until Steed takes over.
She will take the lead in less than ideal conditions.
Boutros accused MetroHealth of providing “misinformation and outright lies” in a statement Monday night, indicating that his board “has received the results of an investigation by an outside compensation consultant related to more than $1,900,000 in additional bonuses that Dr. Boutros authorized for himself. without disclosure to the board of directors between 2018 and 2022.” (The board voted Monday night to fire Boutros for good cause. Boutros’ annual base salary was about $1 million.)
He vehemently rejected this characterization of receiving bonuses without board approval and said he was unfairly harmed for receiving bonuses, which went to a total of approximately 180 eligible MetroHealth employees.
Boutros, who was elected CEO of MetroHealth in the spring of 2013, said he is eligible for bonuses throughout his stay in the healthcare system. A statement provided at the beginning of the interview indicated that MetroHealth’s board “has never excluded Dr. Boutros from being eligible for the results-based incentive system.” According to Boutros, under this additional system, bonus compensation was determined based on a rigid formula set by the board of directors and management of the system, with the board of directors making decisions authorizing the allocation of funds for bonuses.
Boutros said in an interview that he has always had a good relationship with Whiting and other board members. But those ties began to wane in August, when he raised concerns about potential violations of the Sunshine Act after he said he heard board members engage in “consistent discussions” outside of public meetings related to the selection process that led to the hiring of Steed.
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After that, according to Boutros, the problems escalated. On October 10, he said, he was asked to meet with Whiting and vice chairman J.B. Silvers, and they informed him of their concerns about bonus financial irregularities. They also advised him to hire a lawyer, Boutros said, which he did.
On October 31, Boutros said he returned the bonus money with interest—his payout was more than $2.1 million—while the matter was being investigated, and on November 1, he himself reported the matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Boutros said he asked that the payment be placed in escrow, but his request was “categorically denied” by John F. McCaffrey, an attorney for Tucker Ellis LLP who represented MetroHealth. In an interview, Boutros accused McCaffrey of “intimidation and use of intimidation tactics” in a process designed to increase the amount of restitution required.
McCaffrey did not return a call to his office around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.
In early November, Boutros said, MetroHealth’s board began looking for ways to reduce his powers, and they did so officially on November 9, he said, with restrictions that he said violated his contract. On November 11, according to Boutros, he sent a letter to the board of directors stating that it violated his contract and that he was canceling the deal for good reason. Ten days later, the system announced his dismissal.
MetroHealth and Whiting officials declined an interview request.
In response to Boutros’ counter-accusations, MetroHealth released a statement on Tuesday saying his board “does and continues to do so within its powers, in compliance with all applicable state and federal laws.” MetroHealth said that Boutros’ claims are “false and detract from the facts we have previously reported on the issue at hand.” It reiterated that the board of trustees “has not delegated to Dr. Boutros the authority to independently evaluate his performance on metrics never disclosed to the board and then authorize additional bonus payments for himself in amounts never disclosed to the board.”
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Attorney’s office, Michael O’Malley, confirmed that the office had contacted the Ohio Ethics Commission, but declined to comment.
Susan Willeke, spokeswoman for the ethics commission, said that under state law, she “cannot confirm or deny any of the allegations against Dr. Boutros.”
Cuyahoga County Council President Pernel Jones Jr. said in a statement that MetroHealth’s board “has made serious allegations against its former CEO. We don’t know all the facts yet, but we expect government agencies to hold themselves to the highest standards of accountability and integrity. … If the allegations are true, I believe the board acted appropriately. We remain committed to advancing the important mission of our county hospital.”
County Executive-Elect Chris Ronaine added, “Government agencies like MetroHealth must remain accountable and transparent to the public, and I will continue to monitor the situation as more information becomes available.”
Meanwhile, Boutros said he plans to sue MetroHealth for wrongful termination, breach of contract, and what he called “serious damage to my reputation.”
Boutros, a Cairo native who immigrated to New York and came to Cleveland to work for MetroHealth, said the issue is distressing to both the organization and the community.
MetroHealth is in the midst of a $1 billion campus transformation project scheduled for completion in 2025, which marked a major milestone in October with the opening of the 11-story Glick Hospital on the main campus. Boutros said the transformation and initiatives to strengthen care for the underprivileged in the county have made MetroHealth stronger.
But what he sees as “negligence” and “dishonesty” on the part of the board will damage the system’s reputation in the medical profession and the public.
Boutros’ plan was to stay in Cleveland and focus on new efforts to improve the health and well-being of the population. He still hopes he can do it, but noted, “I’m not sure there will be the same opportunities after this.”
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crane’s Cleveland business.