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MetroHealth employee who filed lawsuit fired

Posted at 6:22 PM, Jan 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-28 18:22:27-05

Leaders of MetroHealth Medical Center said an external report found no evidence allegations made by an employee in a civil lawsuit filed in December. 

That employee, Simpson Higgins, was fired on Thursday. 

Huggins, the hospital's former director of Internal Audits, filed a complaint in state court alleging 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.

“Improper expenses including evidently personal (non-business) travel expenses paid on behalf of Chief Executive Officer Akram Boutros and his wife including a trip to London, New York, Venice, and Abu Dhabi. These expenditures exceeded $1,000 each,” the complaint read, in part. 

MetroHealth executives maintain that Higgins was not placed on leave for reporting his allegations. 

“To the contrary, Huggins was placed on administrative leave (and was paid through his accrued personal time) because of his failure to uphold his obligations as the Director, Internal Audit for MetroHealth and his failure to conduct himself in accordance with the propriety that such a role requires,” a response to the suit reads. 

MetroHealth hired the auditing firm KPMG to investigate the allegations. 

According to the report released Thursday, the firm identified “the business purpose of the transaction” for all of Boutros’ work expenses during his two-and-a-half years as CEO. 

Boutros spent more then $109,000 during the period from May 2013 to December 2015. More $43,000 were considered “travel expenses.”  

Boutros addressed the free Botox allegations by saying the drugs in question were donated by a pharmaceutical company and therefore the hospital was not allowed to charge for them. He said the practice is common at research hospitals. 

“Once the resident provides and the patient agrees, then they are told that we are using free medication you will not be charged for that service and that is open to lots of people not just employees,” Boutros said. “Employees, non-employees and family members.” 

J.B. Silvers, Ph.D., Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Audit Committee, said calling Huggins a whistleblower is misleading. 

“In order to be a whistleblower, you have to blow the whistle. He did not,” Silver said Thursday. “The report affirms that there is no evidence that he presented these allegations to any officer at MetroHealth.” 

But Huggins’ attorney, Subodh Chandra, told newnet5.com he questions the integrity of the KPMG report because his client was never interviewed during the course of the investigation. 

“While MetroHealth management may have thought the best defense is a good offense, it seems like Johnny Manziel is calling their plays,” Chandra told newsnet5.com following announcement of his client’s termination. 

Chandra released the following statement: 

Metro should be thanking Mr. Huggins for shining a light on potential misconduct by senior officials. But instead, Metro has doubled down on its retaliation against Mr. Huggins for blowing the whistle. By firing Mr. Huggins—and expressly attributing his termination not only to his audit activities but also to submitting a public-records request for the evidence he had collected of misconduct that Metro seized when firing him—Metro has further subjected itself to liability.

MetroHealth’s conduct raises the question: why are officials who were the subject of Mr. Huggins’s whistleblower report directing—or even involved in—Metro's supposed "investigation"? A thorough and unbiased review will show that Mr. Huggins’s misconduct concerns was founded. We will be submitting a formal request to the state auditor to investigate and amending the civil complaint to include a wrongful-termination claim. 

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