CLEVELAND — MetroHealth has released dozens of pages of records relating to the investigation and firing of former CEO Dr. Akram Boutros.
Boutros was terminated last week amid allegations of 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 MetroHealth's Board of Trustees.
According to documents released by MetroHealth, Boutros' supplemental performance-based variable compensation (SPBVC) came from self-assessments using metrics that he designed.
In 2017, Boutros gave himself a 100% grade, noting the creation of emergency departments at hospitals in Parma and Cleveland Heights. He also listed the creation of CCH Development Corp., which seeks to revitalize the West 25th Street corridor.
Boutros' self-assessment score dropped to 60% in 2018, but rebounded to 85% in 2019 and 2020. Among the achievements he noted were the creation of the Care Innovation and Community Improvement Program (CICIP) to help MetroHealth combat the opioid epidemic, plus the Institute of HOPE, which is designed to be "a catalyst of change for our health, neighborhoods, economy and future." Boutros gave himself a 91.9% in 2021. Much of the weighting of the SPBVC scale in 2020 and 2021 dealt with his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, although some parts of the assessment were redacted for those two years.
In the investigative report given to MetroHealth's board by attorney John McCaffrey of Tucker Ellis LLP, several key points on Boutros' compensation are noted:
- "The Board has the sole authority to determine the compensation to be paid to the President and Chief Executive Officer. The Board’s authority on CEO compensation has never been delegated."
- "Boutros admitted that he did not disclose to the Board the metrics used to calculate the Supplemental PBVC bonus paid to him."
- "Boutros did not otherwise acknowledge or disclose his receipt of Supplemental PBVC bonus compensation at other points in time in which such a disclosure would be relevant, including during contract negotiations."
"This evidence, at a minimum, establishes the Board’s right to terminate Boutros’s employment for Cause, as defined in the employment agreement. And, at worse, this evidence suggests that Boutros may face potential criminal liability for Ohio ethics violations, theft in office, and other related statutes," McCaffrey added.
Read McCaffrey's full report below:
In other documents provided by MetroHealth, Boutros explained that the plan for SPBVC was created in 2017 by himself and his senior management team after coming up with "broad goals" and "more specific and weighted goals."
"We evaluate others, self-evaluate, and discuss contribution for each eligible member," Boutros wrote. "I self-assess with input from my senior team."
Boutros added that all MetroHealth senior executives were aware of and participated in the SPBVC program, noting that there is no board policy that excludes the CEO from taking part.
According to Boutros, who was set to retire at the end of this year, the allegations against him come as the result of his role as a "whistleblower" during the process of MetroHealth's hiring of his successor, Airica Steed. Boutros says that the allegations against him only came after he expressed concern that board members had violated Ohio's sunshine laws by deliberating Steed's hiring and signing agreements outside of public meetings.
“It's because I became a whistleblower. I tell them that these [deliberations] are problematic. A week or so later, they start with this. I find out there are contracts that are signed that are unauthorized. I tell them about that. It escalates again," Boutros told 3News' Monica Robins. "So in my mind, this is pure retaliation."
Boutros says that he had reported his concerns regarding potential sunshine law violations in August after he claims he overheard and saw board members discussing the selection process for his successor. He says that a week later was the first time he was informed of concerns regarding his bonuses.
After explaining his bonus payment, which he says fell in line with the company's policy and was overseen by a compensation consultant, Boutros said he thought the matter was resolved. But on Oct. 10, he says he received a call to meet with the board's chair and vice chair, who informed him they believed he had committed wrongdoing.
"I am utterly flabbergasted by what they're saying," Boutros said. "They're telling me that the board doesn't know anything about its own [bonus] program and that they approved these resolutions not knowing what they contained. What I'm told is that this is going to really look bad for me and for them, from an oversight perspective."
Boutros said that he was advised to hire a lawyer, self-report to the Ohio ethics commission, and repay the bonus money while the board performed its reassessment. Boutros says he followed those recommendations, asking to put the bonus money in escrow, which explains why he self-reported and repaid the money with interest on Oct. 31.
On November 11, Boutros sent the board a letter stating that he was terminating his contract for cause. "While I think everyone is interested in doing what is best for MetroHealth, the patients, and the employees, we seem to be heading toward a very public dispute and litigation," he wrote to MetroHealth Board of Trustee Chair Vanessa Whiting. "Please know that this is not my preferred approach. I would very much like to find a mutually beneficial resolution to all current and future issues. I am eager to begin a dispute resolution process that can be led by employment lawyers who are experienced in this approach. I stand ready to engage such an attorney on my side and hope that you are willing to do the same."
MetroHealth announced Boutros' termination ten days later.
"In response to the wildly reckless, illegal, and damaging actions to the reputation of MetroHealth and Dr. Akram Boutros, he has filed a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas detailing multiple violations of Ohio’s Open Meetings Act and the MetroHealth System Board of Trustees Bylaws by the MetroHealth Board and its Chair, Vanessa L. Whiting. The suit is the result of an investigation that clearly demonstrates the wanton disregard for Ohio’s Open Meetings Act and the Board Bylaws by its Board and Chair Vanessa Whiting in both the hiring process for the health system’s new CEO and the so-called investigation of Dr. Boutros’ compensation," wrote Boutros' attorney Jason Bristol.
Read the full lawsuit below:
Editor's Note: 3News' Monica Robins and Ben Axelrod contributed to this story.