Lawsuit alleges misconduct by MetroHealth execs

Posted at 3:59 PM, Dec 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-22 09:19:51-05

A MetroHealth administrator has accused the hospital of retaliating against him after he accused higher-ups of taking free Botox injections and international vacations on the taxpayers' dime.

The charges in the complaint, if proved true, could constitute criminal conduct. MetroHealth released a statement denying all of Simpson Huggins' allegations.

Huggins, the hospital's director of Internal Audits, filed a complaint in state court charging that MetroHealth placed him on unpaid administrative leave moments after he reported that he believed the company's vice presidents and an employee's relative had received free Botox injections, and that CEO Akram Boutros had taken personal international trips on the hospital's dime.

"It's a public hospital. They should be good stewards of the public's funds and public trust and they should account for every dime that goes in, that goes out," said Ashlie Case Svetvold, Huggins' attorney.

Huggins made the report during a Dec. 15, 2015 quarterly presentation to the hospital's audit committee, the lawsuit states.

According to the complaint, Huggins reported that he believed Boutros had accepted thousands of dollars in improper expenditures and reimbursements for personal expenses, including trips to London, Venice and Abu Dhabi. He also told the committee that two of MetroHealth's vice presidents and one employee's relative received free Botox treatments at the MetroHealth Pepper Pike Dermatology Clinic.

From the complaint: 

After reporting these crimes to the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees—including theft of Botox injections and other services from MetroHealth’s Pepper Pike Dermatology Clinic for use by senior executives and irregularities with CEO Akram Boutros’s travel expenses and other reimbursements—Mr. Huggins was placed on unpaid administrative leave in retaliation for looking at records he “had no business looking at” and “overstepping his bounds” as an employee (to quote MetroHealth General Counsel Michael D. Phillips). Rather than address the issues Mr. Huggins raised, MetroHealth chose to come after Mr. Huggins. Such actions violate Ohio law.

Read the full complaint here.

Huggins' complaint alleges that his email and network access was terminated before the end of the meeting, and he was told to not attend a meeting that followed, which he usually attended.

A hospital detective then met with him, questioned him and he was told he would be placed on unpaid administrative leave. A flash drive Huggins said contained evidence of his allegations against Boutros and the other hospital administrators was confiscated, he said.

"Once employers get the message that this is not the way to treat employees, all employees will be safer," Svetvold added.

MetroHealth released the following statement:

While we are still reviewing the lengthy complaint, MetroHealth categorically denies all allegations in the complaint and discovery notice. 

Mr. Simpson Huggins is a disgruntled employee who is resorting to false allegations and innuendos.  He has been placed on unpaid administrative leave pending an investigation of unrelated issues. 

In addition, Mr. Huggins’ report to the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees included only routine matters and was unrelated to these allegations. He did not make any whistleblower complaints.

“The only trips that were paid by MetroHealth were for business purposes, and complied with all policies and procedures.  All other trips that were not business related were paid by me personally,” said Akram Boutros, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer.

The only overseas business trips that Dr. Boutros took on behalf of the hospital were for meetings in 2013 and 2015 with the MetroHealth insurance underwriters in London. These meetings are routine and longstanding, and have resulted in significant savings of annual insurance premiums.

Huggins was hired at MetroHealth as an audit manager in 2012 and was promoted to Director in 2013.

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