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. An attorney for Boutros says the firing is retaliatory after he planned to expose misconduct by the board.

The MetroHealth Board of Trustees said it has fired MetroHealth CEO Akram Boutros after discovering that 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 uncovered that Boutros gave himself bonuses over a period of four years without notifying the board, the Cleveland-based system said in a news release.

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

“We all recognize the wonderful things Dr. Boutros has done for our hospital and for the community,” Vanessa Whiting, chairwoman of MetroHealth’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “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.”

Boutros plans to take legal action over the firing. An attorney for Boutros contends the termination of Boutros 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 has been hired as the organization’s next president and CEO. Boutros had previously announced in November 2021 that he planned to retire at the end of this year.

Whiting said in a statement Tuesday that the allegations from Boutros “are false and a distraction from the facts we have previously communicated about the issue at hand.”

Reasons for termination

MetroHealth said that Boutros, by his own admission, established metrics to measure his performance, conducted his own evaluation of his performance in relation to those benchmarks, and paid himself more than $1.9 million from 2017 through 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 states clearly that the board sets Boutros’ compensation. Only the board can determine Boutros’ compensation, including bonuses, and the board is the only authority that can set performance metrics determining 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 had disclosed the matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission on Nov. 1, the day after he repaid the money, the system said.

“We stand ready to cooperate with any investigating authorities while 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 matter,” but didn’t comment further, Cleveland.com reported.

Boutros didn’t disclose his full compensation to the board and didn’t offer the information to a consultant hired to review and assess the CEO’s compensation, the board said.

MetroHealth’s board tapped 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 coming

Conversely, Boutros’s attorney said the firing is punitive and Boutros will be taking his case to court.

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

“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,” Bristol said in the statement.

“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,” Bristol said in the statement.

“The Chair led a retaliatory 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 the payment of bonuses.

MetroHealth operates four hospitals and dozens of sites of care 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.