CLEVELAND — Longtime MetroHealth President and CEO Akram Boutros has been fired less than two months before his planned retirement, a shocking move for one of Northeast Ohio's largest health care systems.
In a statement provided to 3News, MetroHealth Board of Trustees Chair Vanessa Whiting said Boutros' termination came following an investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds. Specifically, Boutros is claimed to have authorized more than $1.9 million in bonus payments to himself over a four-year period beginning in 2018, without disclosing those payments to the board.
The trustees voted Monday to immediately oust Boutros for cause, with Whiting further stating, in part:
"We have taken these actions mindfully and deliberately but with sadness and disappointment. We all recognize the wonderful things Dr. Boutros has done for our hospital and for the community. However, we know of no organization permitting its CEO to self-evaluate and determine their entitlement to an additional bonus and at what amount, as Dr. Boutros has done."
According to Whiting, Boutros admitted to establishing his own standards and "conducted self-assessments of his performance under those metrics" that resulted in him giving himself the bonuses. "The MetroHealth Board of Trustees is the only administrative body that can approve the CEO's compensation, including bonuses, and set performance evaluation metrics for the CEO," she continued, adding that Boutros' contract also made this clear.
The hospital system hired an outside law firm to conduct an inquiry, which resulted in Boutros repaying MetroHealth the bonus money plus interest on Oct. 31 for a total penalty of more than $2.1 million. In addition, Boutros told the board he had self-reported his actions to the Ohio Ethics Commission, and Whiting has pledged the board's full cooperation should any criminal probe result from the allegations.
The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office tells 3News they are "in contact with the Ohio Ethics Commission to review the matter," but would provide no further comment.
Boutros had led MetroHealth since 2013, with the hospital system previously saying its annual revenue had grown from $785 million to more than $1.5 billion by the end of his tenure. Just last month, he presided over what many saw as his crowning achievement: the opening of a renovated main campus highlighted by the dazzling Glick Center.
MetroHealth says it has a specific "performance-based variable compensation (PBVC) plan" for CEOs based on goals set by the board, and that not only did Boutros not have the authority to usurp this system, but also failed to notify a financial consultant hired annual to review his compensation.
"We have implemented, and will continue to implement, additional processes and safeguards to ensure the integrity of the payment and bonus process," Whiting added.
The following statement was released Tuesday morning from an attorney representing Boutros:
"The MetroHealth Board's actions yesterday are the latest of a series of retaliatory acts against Dr. Boutros after he raised the issue of the unauthorized hiring of the new CEO.
"He uncovered that the Board members were participating in serial deliberation outside of public meetings and that the Chair signed agreements and authorized payments without Board approval.
"The Chair led a retaliatory charge against him for blowing the whistle on these practices. She targeted him for receiving bonuses that were also received by all eligible employees.
"The 'demand' for repayment is evidence of the Board's discriminatory treatment as he is the only employee forced to repay bonuses.
"The Board of Trustees took this action to divert attention from their own gross negligence.
"The statement released by the Board last night is full of misinformation and outright lies. Dr. Boutros will be taking legal action."
Dr. Nabil Chehade will assume the roles of CEO on an interim basis until Dec. 5, when Dr. Airica Steed takes over as Boutros' permanent replacement almost a month before she was supposed to. Due to Boutros' alleged misconduct, the board has also decided to extend unspecified spending and hiring limits for the CEO position that were originally supposed to lapse at the end of the year.