Dr. Akram Boutros will retire as president and CEO of MetroHealth at the end of 2022 after leading the public health system since 2013, he announced on Monday, Nov. 29.
Boutros was brought into the system to help transform MetroHealth and establish long-term sustainability and has since "exceeded the board's, employees' and the community's expectations," MetroHealth board chair Vanessa Whiting, who served on the search committee that hired Boutros, said in a news release.
Since 2013, MetroHealth has opened two hospitals, three emergency departments, 10 community health centers, nine pharmacies, and sent healthcare providers into more than a dozen local schools, according to the release, which also notes that under Boutros' leadership, the system's annual revenue grew from $785 million to more than $1.5 billion.
During his tenure, MetroHealth opened Lincoln West School of Science and Health (the only high school inside a hospital) in 2018. Boutros also developed Ohio's only Ebola Treatment Center, and formed dozens of partnerships, according to the release, including those with UH-Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, ProMedica, the Cleveland Innovation District and Cuyahoga Community College.
"I fell in love with MetroHealth the first time I visited, and it has been the privilege of a lifetime to be its CEO," Boutros said in a provided statement. "I never imagined that we would have accomplished so much so quickly. Over the past 8½ years, The MetroHealth System has emerged as a national leader, renowned for its focus on the community, and distinguished for its financial strength. And I am delighted to say that we have, arguably, achieved our vision of becoming the most admired public health system in the nation. With The Glick Center and Behavioral Health Hospital opening next year, it feels like the right time to hand the baton to MetroHealth's next leader."
The system also is embarking on a $1 billion transformation of its main campus on West 25th Street, the development of which Boutros led. Twenty-five acres of green space — the first hospital in a park in the country — will surround the new MetroHealth Glick Center (opening in October 2022) and the Outpatient and Administration Building (opening in 2023). The investment has or will support more than 6,000 new and existing jobs, result in $900 million in total output of economic benefit for Cuyahoga County, and has helped lead to the development of the Clark Fulton/MetroHealth EcoDistrict, which is the first hospital-sponsored certified EcoDistrict in the world, according to the release.
Additionally, Boutros led the system as it integrated social services to build equity, promote justice and improve the health of people and communities, according to the release.
He also has galvanized political leaders, entrepreneurs and the community around a comprehensive model of healthcare beyond traditional medicine to address the social determinants of health. Efforts include developing affordable housing, distributing healthy food, and providing educational opportunities, job training, legal services and more throughout the community, according to the release.
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"We are incredibly grateful for his leadership and for the strong position he has put us in to attract a great next CEO," Whiting, president of A.E.S. Management Corp., said in a provided statement. "He guided our care toward a uniquely patient-centered, whole-system approach that aggressively addresses social determinants of health and is a national model. He recruited and developed a leadership team that excels in care, operations, and innovation. He brought long-term stability to our finances, doubled our revenues, and created businesses that support our mission."
His focus on inclusion, diversity and equity extends to the system's workforce, according to the release, which notes that 39% of MetroHealth's new hires in 2020 were racially or ethnically diverse. The campus transformation project to date has achieved its workforce goals of 50% county residents, 18% city residents, 22% minority and 5% women participation, according to the release.
Boutros grew the employee base from 6,200 to nearly 8,000, increased the system's minimum wage to $15 per hour in 2019 and provided no-deductible, no-copay health coverage to employees, according to the release.
During Boutros' tenure as CEO of the MetroHealth Foundation, it brought in the largest donation in its history — $42 million from JoAnn and Bob Glick — and increased the campaign goal from $100 million to $150 million. MetroHealth returned more than $650 million to Cuyahoga County in free care and community benefit programs over the past three years, which is twice the national average, according to the release.
Also under his leadership, MetroHealth took over full medical care responsibilities of the Cuyahoga County Correctional Center, leading to a turnaround in outcomes and exemplary reviews by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, according to the release.
The MetroHealth board of trustees, which is issuing a request for proposal to retain an executive search firm that will help conduct a nationwide search, will announce in December members of a newly formed search committee, comprised of MetroHealth trustees, physicians and staff, organizational partners and community leaders, according to the release.
"Akram has been preparing the board and the health system for this day," Whiting said. "We're thankful that he has positioned us well and given us enough notice to run a thorough process to identify the person best-suited to succeed him. MetroHealth's clinical strength, national stature, strong leadership team, financial strength and soon-to-be state-of-the-art main hospital and campus will allow us to attract a great pool of candidates."
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Cleveland Business.