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MetroHealth fires CEO Dr. Akram Boutros for what it calls improper bonuses. He says they're lying

MetroHealth President and CEO, Akram Boutros gives an update at MetroHealth Medical Center on the state's preparedness and education efforts to limit the potential spread of a new virus which caused a disease called COVID-19, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Cleveland. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, left, and Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, right, listen.
Tony Dejak
The MetroHealth system board said Monday night that Dr. Akram Boutros, longtime CEO of the MetroHealth System, improperly awarded himself $1.9 million in supplemental bonuses between 2018-2022, His lawyer said in a statement that it is retaliation and discrimination by the board. In this photo, Boutros (center) gives an update at MetroHealth Medical Center on the state's coronavirus preparedness and education efforts on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Cleveland.

Updated 11/22/2022 at 10:40 a.m.

The MetroHealth System board of trustees fired longtime CEO Dr. Akram Boutros Monday night, saying in an emailed statement that he improperly authorized nearly $2 million in bonus payments to himself without the board’s knowledge.

On Tuesday, Boutros' lawyer, Jason R. Bristol, said in a statement the firing is one in a series of retaliatory actions the board has taken against Boutros after he alleged improper practices in the board's hiring of his replacement as CEO.

"The statement released by the Board last night is full of misinformation and outright lies. Dr. Boutros will be taking legal action." Bristol said.

According to a statement from Vanessa Whiting, chair of the MetroHealth System board, Boutros “by his own admission, established specific metrics, conducted self-assessments of his performance under those metrics, and authorized payment to himself of more than $1,900,000 in supplemental bonuses based on those self-evaluations between 2018 and 2022.”

Only the board is authorized to approve compensation for the CEO, including bonuses, the statement reads, and Boutros failed to inform the board or a compensation consultant about the bonuses. The board voted to terminate Boutros for cause effective immediately Monday night.

Bristol said Boutros is being targeted because he uncovered that board members were "participating in serial deliberation outside of public meetings" about the hiring of the new CEO, Dr. Airica Steed, and that Whiting "signed agreements and authorized payments without Board approval."

Bristol said, "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."

Whiting said in a statement Monday night that Boutros' bonuses were not proper.

“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,” the statement reads. “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.”

On Oct. 31, Whiting said, Boutros repaid the hospital system the amount of the bonuses, plus interest, totaling $2.1 million. He told the board Monday he had self reported his actions to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

"The 'demand' for repayment is evidence of the Board's discriminatory treatment as he is the only employee forced to repay bonuses," Bristol said in his statement. "The Board of Trustees took this action to divert attention from their own gross negligence."

Boutros took the helm of MetroHealth in 2013 and is widely viewed as a leader not only in health care, but also in the community. He has overseen a transformation of the hospital system's main campus on W. 25th Street in Cleveland, including the opening of a signature new building, the Glick Center, this month.

Whiting said in her statement that the board initiated an investigation, led by the law firm Tucker Ellis, after issues arose as it prepared for its CEO transition. The board hired Steed in September to succeed Boutros, who announced last year he would retire at the end of 2022.

Dr. Nabil Chehade will serve as interim CEO until Steed, most recently executive vice president and chief operating officer of Sinai Chicago Health System and president of Mount Sinai and Sinai Children’s Hospital, takes over at MetroHealth on Dec. 5.

Mike McIntyre is the executive editor of Ideastream Public Media.