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MetroHealth suspends extra bonus program in wake of scandal

MetroHealth CEO Dr. Airica Steed testifies at Cuyahoga County Council on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
“I think that creating a culture of ethics and a culture of integrity is the most important factor that we can put in place as we go forward,” MetroHealth CEO Airica Steed said Tuesday.

MetroHealth System CEO Airica Steed told Cuyahoga County Council Tuesday that she has suspended the extra bonus program at the center of a scandal that has rocked the county’s safety net hospital and prompted the firing of its former CEO.

“I’m working with my team to develop better internal controls and guard rails,” Steed said during a County Council committee meeting.

In November, the hospital board fired then-CEO Dr. Akram Boutros, alleging he awarded himself more than $1.9 million in unapproved bonuses. Boutros has denied wrongdoing and has sued the hospital board for defamation and retaliation. He has repaid, with interest, the bonuses in question and notified the Ohio Ethics Commission about the issue. Boutros denies wrongdoing and has said the bonuses he collected were authorized.

Less than a month after the scandal broke, the county counciltightened its control over the $32 million taxpayers contribute annually to the operation of the hospital. County council members said in December they wanted assurances from the hospital’s new CEO that the public money was being spent properly.

During the meeting, Steed took steps to provide those assurances.

The funding provided to the hospital through the countywide health and human services levy is being spent properly and safeguards against misuse are in place, she said.

“I want to assure you that these dollars are spent solely for the reasons that you have authorized: The care of the uninsured or underinsured patients from Cuyahoga County,” she said.

MetroHealth provides more than $125 million per year in care for uninsured and underinsured people in Cuyahoga County, according to Steed.

She said she was also in the process of hiring several executives, including a Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Human Resources Officer, who will be involved in setting compensation.

“This was a structure that was not in place before,” Steed said. “This most certainly was a structure that fell down, and we’re lifting that back up.”

She said that the chief financial, chief human resources and chief compliance officers will all report to the board as well as to herself.

“The triad between our chief human resources officer, our chief financial officer and our chief compliance officer … are the balance that's going to help keep our internal controls in check and in place,” Steed said.

She said she is creating a culture where no one is afraid to speak up if they are asked to do something they are not sure is correct.

“I think that creating a culture of ethics and a culture of integrity is the most important factor that we can put in place as we go forward,” she said.

Stephanie is the deputy editor of news at Ideastream Public Media.