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MetroHealth hires N.Y. healthcare consultant for CEO post

The MetroHealth System's second go-around at finding a new boss ended Wednesday afternoon when the hard-pressed Cleveland health system introduced Dr. Akram Boutros, founder and president of a New York-based healthcare consulting firm, as president and CEO.

Boutros, who starts his new job June 1, brings more than 20 years of healthcare leadership experience to MetroHealth, the health system subsidized by Cuyahoga County taxpayers.

Prior to leading BusinessFirst Healthcare Solutions, Boutros, an internist by trade, served as executive vice president and chief administrative officer for St. Francis Hospital – The Heart Center in Roslyn, N.Y. He also served as executive vice president, chief medical officer and chief operating officer at South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, N.Y.

Boutros will take over for MetroHealth's interim leader, Dr. Edward Hills, who has held the post since late December. Hills took over for Mark Moran, who announced in late 2011 he would step down once his successor was named.

MetroHealth's search hasn't been an easy one, as the health system's first choice — Dr. John Brennan, CEO of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in New Jersey — unexpectedly reneged on his commitment last November, just two weeks after accepting the post.

Boutros, 51, was adamant this afternoon during a wide-ranging interview with Crain's that he was in for the long haul with MetroHealth, suggesting he would be happy to finish his career with the health system.

“I wanted to find a place where I could finish my career,” Boutros said. “This is not a decision I made lightly.

“I don't understand why anyone wouldn't want to come here,” he added.

Boutros will earn an annual salary of $680,000, with his total compensation package hovering between $884,000 and $952,000. The compensation offered to Boutros is comparable to that offered to Brennan, who was slated to earn an annual salary of $685,000, with total compensation hovering between $750,000 and $1.1 million.

Boutros said he's shutting down his consulting business and will transfer its clients to another large consulting firm. Despite his foray into the consulting world, Boutros insisted MetroHealth wouldn't employ a bevy of consultants to do its work — something for which the health system has taken heat in the media and from county officials.

While many of the skills he'll bring to MetroHealth were honed in the consulting world, Boutros said consultants were too expensive, not responsible for outcomes and often reflect poorly on a health system's leaders as it shows they can't handle the work themselves.

MetroHealth board chairman Tom McDonald said the search committee was impressed with how Boutros carried himself and how well he knew the system during his interviews. He said the board was also keen on how Boutros carried through major construction projects at both St. Francis and South Nassau hospitals.

The road ahead

Boutros arrives at MetroHealth as it looks to chart a sustainable course for the future. As the county's safety-net hospital, MetroHealth's finances have been rattled in recent years by the dramatic increase in uncompensated care it provides, which has resulted in layoffs and steep budget cuts.

The health system hopes to finish 2013 with a $10 million profit, though it reported losing about $6.5 million over the first three months of the year.

During the interview with Crain's, Boutros wasn't in lockstep with all the plans for the health system's future developed by his predecessors.

Under a plan devised by Moran, for instance, MetroHealth hopes to buoy its finances in coming years by building a handful of community health centers.

The outpatient centers are expected to bring more commercially insured patients — and thus revenue — into MetroHealth's coffers in order to help offset the growing debt the system takes on by caring for the county's poorest residents. Its first new health center is expected to be completed in July in Middleburg Heights.

MetroHealth also has plans — again, developed under Moran — to pump as much as $650 million by 2017 into upgrading its aging main campus on West 25th Street in Cleveland. System officials have said in the past it would cost $435 million over the next five years to maintain its current facilities.

Boutros didn't completely toss out those strategies, but noted they likely would need to be tweaked.

“They have all the right pieces, but some of them go too far and some don't go far enough,” he said.

For one, he suggested he would be taking a hard look at the conceptual plans for the overhaul of the health system's main campus. He also said he would like to see the health system deliver care in person at people's homes or workplaces and through telemedicine, as many of the health system's low-income patients have transportation issues.

In a prepared statement, Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, the gubernatorial hopeful who recently voiced concerns about MetroHealth awarding bonuses to its executives, said Boutros “has impressive credentials, a dedication to help the most vulnerable and a commitment to the continued transformation of MetroHealth.”

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, also in a prepared statement, said, “I have met Akram Boutros and I found him to be the right person at the right time for this position and I look forward to working with him.”

Boutros moved to the U.S. from Egypt when he was 12. He is married and has three children. He earned his medical degree at the State University of New York Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn. Boutros also graduated from Harvard Business School's advanced management program.

"MetroHealth names N.Y. healthcare consultant its next CEO" originally appeared on Crain's Cleveland Business.

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