Dr Akram Boutros, who was removed from his position on Monday night, November 21, as the CEO of MetroHealth due to what the system describes as compensation-related abuse, asserted that he “doesn’t do anything wrong here” and is instead the victim of retaliation for blowing the whistle on board activities related to the recruitment of a successor.
“I fully believe I will be vindicated,” Boutros said in an interview at Crain’s office Tuesday afternoon, November 22, adding, “I have absolutely nothing to hide.”
Boutros, along with his attorney, Jason R. Bristol of Cohen Rosenthal & Kramer LLP, said he was “completely blindsided” by the bounty allegations when those allegations were brought to him. in October. He also detailed why he found bonus payments were made in full compliance with the board’s directives.
As Boutros sees it, lay off, announced in a statement released at 10 p.m. Monday, was retaliation for questioning whether MetroHealth board members violated state sunshine laws by considered hiring a successor — Airica Steed, Chicago’s veteran healthcare executive — outside of public meetings. He also said board chairwoman Vanessa Whiting signed the agreements and authorized payments without board approval.
Boutros has been set up to stay with MetroHealth until the end of the year. Steed, who hired announced September 22 will assume the position of CEO of MetroHealth on December 5. Dr. Nabil Chehade has been appointed as interim CEO until Steed accepts the job.
She will take on a leadership role in less than ideal conditions.
Boutros is accused MetroHealth for providing “misinformation and outright lies” in its statement Monday night, which said its board had “received the results of an outside counsel’s investigation into compensation matters involving more than $1,900,000 in additional bonuses that Dr Boutros authorized himself without disclosing to the board, between 2018-2022.” (The board of directors on Monday night voted to terminate Boutros’ employment for good cause. Boutros’ base annual salary is about $1 million.)
He flatly rejected the bonus feature without board approval and said he had been unfairly targeted in accepting bonuses for a total of about 180 eligible employees of the company. MetroHealth.
Boutros, who was selected as MetroHealth CEO in the spring of 2013, said he was eligible for bonuses during his tenure in the health care system. A statement presented at the beginning of the interview indicated that the MetroHealth board “never excluded Dr. Boutros from the group of employees eligible for the performance-based incentive system.” Under that additional system, Boutros said, bonuses are determined based on a rigid formula set by the board and system leadership, with the board passing resolutions allowing the team to bonus.
Boutros in the interview said he has always had a good relationship with Whiting and other board members. But those relationships began to strain in August, when he reported concerns about a possible violation of sunshine laws then, he said, he had overheard the members. The board of directors engaged in “mass discussion” outside of public meetings regarding the selection process that led to Steed’s recruitment.
Then, Boutros said, problems escalated. He said, on October 10, he was asked to meet with Whiting and the vice chairman of the board, JB Silvers, and that they informed him of concerns about financial misconduct related to the bonus. . They also advised him to hire a lawyer, Boutros said, and he did.
Boutros said on October 31, he refunded the bonus with interest — his payment was worth more than $2.1 million — while the matter was being investigated, and on October 1. In November, he self-reported the matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission.
Boutros said he asked for the payment to be escrow, but his request was “flatly denied” by John F. McCaffrey, an attorney at Tucker Ellis LLP who represents MetroHealth. In the interview, Boutros accused McCaffrey of “bullying and using intimidation tactics” in the process to increase the amount of compensation needed.
McCaffrey did not return calls to his office around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Boutros said in early November that the MetroHealth board began looking for ways to reduce his powers, and that was done formally, he said, on November 9, with restrictions which he said was a breach of his contract. Boutros said on November 11 he sent the board a letter saying it violated his contract and that he was terminating the agreement for good reason. Ten days later, the system announced his dismissal.
MetroHealth and Whites officials declined an interview request.
In response to Boutros’ counter-claims, MetroHealth issued a statement Tuesday indicating that its board “acts and continues to act within its authority, in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.” state and federal practices.” MetroHealth said Boutros’ allegations “are false and distract from the facts we have previously communicated about the current matter.” It reiterates that the board “has not authorized Dr Boutros to self-assess his performance based on metrics that have never been disclosed to the board, and subsequently authorized the payment of additional bonus to himself of an amount that has never been disclosed to the board.”
A spokesman at the Cuyahoga County District Attorney’s office Michael O’Malley confirmed that the office has reached out to the Ohio Ethics Commission but declined to comment.
Susan Willeke, a spokeswoman for the ethics committee, said that under state law, she “cannot confirm or deny any allegations regarding Dr. Boutros.”
Cuyahoga County Councilmember Pernel Jones Jr. said in a statement that the MetroHealth board “has made serious allegations against its former CEO. We don’t know all the facts yet, but we hope the public institutions do. adhere to the highest standards of accountability and integrity If the allegations are true, I believe the board has acted appropriately We remain committed to advancing the vital mission of the patient our county hospital.”
County Sheriff-elect Chris Ronayne added, “Public organizations like MetroHealth must maintain accountability and transparency to the public and I will continue to monitor the situation as more information becomes available.”
Meanwhile, Boutros said he plans to take legal action against 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 made him “sad for the organization and the community.”
MetroHealth is working on a $1 billion campus transformation project, scheduled for completion in 2025, in October marking a major milestone with the opening of the 11-story Glick hospital on the main campus. . Boutros says the transition and initiatives to increase care for underserved residents in the county have made MetroHealth stronger.
But what he sees as “negligence” and “dishonesty” from the board will damage the system’s reputation among the medical profession and the community.
Boutros’ plan is to stay in Cleveland and focus on new efforts to improve the health and well-being of the community. He hopes to still be able to do that but notes, “I’m not sure there will be similar opportunities after this one.”
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain’s Cleveland Enterprise.