CLEVELAND (WJW) — The president and CEO of MetroHealth Medical Center has been fired, the Chair of MetroHealth Board of Trustees confirmed late Monday night.

Dr. Akram Boutros was reportedly found to have authorized giving himself $1.9 million in bonuses over four years without disclosing it to the board, an outside investigation discovered. Monday, the board voted to terminate him.

Boutros’ attorney, in a Tuesday statement, claimed the firing was retaliatory, and that Boutros had recently exposed board misconduct in its push for a new CEO, led by board Chair Vanessa Whiting.

But Whiting said Tuesday that’s “false” and a “distraction” from the facts.

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“We have taken these actions mindfully and deliberately but with sadness and disappointment,” Whiting said in the board’s initial statement Monday. “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.”

Boutros has repaid the money with interest and has self-reported to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

The commission declined to comment to FOX 8 Tuesday, as its investigations and hearings are confidential. When the commission receives ethics complaints that fall within its authority, it performs its own investigation then presents the results to the commission, which determines how to resolve the case.

“Possible outcomes include closing the matter due to insufficient evidence to support a violation of the Ethics Law; resolving the case under the Commission’s settlement authority; or sharing the results with the appropriate prosecuting authority,” reads the commission’s website.

A representative of the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office told FOX 8 Tuesday the office has been in contact with the commission “to review the matter,” but declined to comment further.

Newly elected Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne said in a Tuesday statement to FOX 8 that he is following the situation.

“The MetroHealth System provides critical care to residents throughout Cuyahoga County and is a key provider of health and wellness services to our residents, especially to our most vulnerable residents,” he said. “Public institutions like MetroHealth must remain accountable and transparent to the public and I will continue to monitor the situation as more information comes to light.”

In the interim, Dr. Nabil Chehade is taking over CEO duties, with Dr. Airica Steed, slated to officially take over starting Dec. 5. A September news release from MetroHealth on Steed’s hiring stated Boutros was expected to retire and that Steed would succeed him on Jan. 1.

But Steed’s hiring was not authorized, Boutros’ attorney, Jason Bristol of Cleveland, claimed in a Tuesday statement. Boutros’ camp claims board members met privately and that Whiting signed agreements and authorized payments without board approval.

Boutros’ attorney also said the bonuses Boutros received were also given to other eligible employees, and that Boutros was the only employee forced to repay them.

Bristol said the board’s statement was “full of misinformation and outright lies” and that Boutros expects to take legal action.

Whiting, who responded to Boutros’ statement later Tuesday, said the trustees board “continues to act within its authority, complying with all applicable state and federal laws” and that Boutros’ allegations are “false and a distraction from the facts.”

Read more of the MetroHealth board’s initial statement on Monday, Nov. 21, below:

Dr. 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. The self-evaluations and the supplemental bonus amounts paid to Dr. Boutros were not disclosed to the Board, even though Dr. Boutros’ employment contract makes clear that the Board sets Dr. Boutros’ compensation.

In keeping with the Board of Trustees’ fiduciary duties, we launched an internal investigation, led by the Tucker Ellis law firm, when we learned of these issues as we prepared for our CEO transition, resulting in the following actions to date:

The Board demanded immediate repayment of the supplemental bonus money. On October 31, Dr. Boutros repaid $2,104,337.11, which represented the supplemental bonus money paid without approval for performance in calendar years 2017 through 2021, plus $124,003.86 in interest.

The Board on November 9 approved and enacted immediate CEO spending and hiring limitations that were to remain in place through Dec. 31, 2022.

Dr. Boutros informed the Board at a public meeting that he had self-reported to the Ohio Ethics Commission on Nov. 1, 2022, the day after the repayment. We stand ready to cooperate with any investigating authorities while we continue our internal investigation.

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.

MetroHealth offers its CEO a performance-based variable compensation (PBVC) plan that makes a bonus available based on achievements reached against annual organizational goals approved by the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees did not delegate to Dr. Boutros the authority to self-evaluate his performance against metrics never disclosed to the Board, and then authorize supplemental bonus payments for himself in amounts never disclosed to the Board.  Dr. Boutros omitted reporting his full compensation to the Board – and to a nationally recognized compensation consultant hired to annually review and assess Dr. Boutros’ compensation.  

We have implemented, and will continue to implement, additional processes and safeguards to ensure the integrity of the payment and bonus process.

Read Boutros’ attorney’s Tuesday, Nov. 22, statement below:

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 these 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.

Read Whiting’s statement Tuesday, Nov. 22, in response to Boutros’ claims:

The MetroHealth Board of Trustees acts and continues to act within its authority, complying with all applicable state and federal laws. The allegations being made are false and a distraction from the facts we have previously communicated about the issue at hand:

— Dr. 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.

— The Board of Trustees did not delegate to Dr. Boutros the authority to self-evaluate his performance against metrics never disclosed to the Board, and then authorize supplemental bonus payments for himself in amounts never disclosed to the Board.

— The MetroHealth Board of Trustees is the only administrative body that can set performance evaluation metrics for the CEO and approve CEO bonuses and total compensation, and Dr. Boutros’ employment contract makes clear that the Board sets Dr. Boutros’ compensation.

— Dr. Boutros repaid the unapproved supplemental bonus money, with interest, on October 31.

— Dr. Boutros informed the Board at a public meeting that he had self-reported to the Ohio Ethics Commission on November 1, 2022, the day after the repayment.

Stay with FOX 8 for more as this story develops.