February 2, 2023

New MetroHealth CEO Airica Steed looks to narrow healthcare disparities as the Cleveland-based nonprofit health system restructures after firing its former chief executive.

Steed, who was the president of Mount Sinai and Sinai Children’s Hospital and chief operating officer of Sinai Chicago, the city’s largest private safety-net health system, began her role as MetroHealth CEO Dec. 5.

She started the job about a month earlier than expected after an investigation revealed that former MetroHealth CEO Dr. Akram Boutros funneled more than $1.9 million in supplemental bonuses to himself over a four-year period without the board’s knowledge. Boutros repaid $2.1 million on Oct. 31 and was fired Nov. 21. Boutros has since filed multiple lawsuits in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, alleging the board violated Ohio’s Open Meetings Act in hiring his successor, wrongful termination and defamation. MetroHealth denied the allegations. The cases are pending.

Steed plans to develop similar programs in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County as she did on the West Side of Chicago, both areas that serve a high proportion of Medicare and Medicaid patients in markets anchored by academic safety-net systems. Some of those planned initiatives include a free non-emergency transportation service, a virtual call center that coordinates outpatient care and integrating ambulatory care in mixed-use, affordable housing developments.

MetroHealth must strike a balance between establishing programs, expanding existing services, retaining key employees and executives amid a national labor shortage and regaining the trust of the community as a third-party investigator reviews and helps revamp the system’s internal policies, Steed said.

“The scandal has sounded the alarm and required us to bolster a lot of our core bread-and-butter protocol and processes to ensure that as a community health system we are a trusted entity,” she said. “MetroHealth, just like every other health system across the country, is not shielded from what’s happening with the workforce. Finding a balance for those headwinds is imperative for us.”

Steed also plans to build on MetroHealth’s workforce development programs, one of which is the Lincoln-West School of Science and Health, a hospital-based high school that combines a traditional curriculum with interactive learning in a healthcare setting. MetroHealth also has science, technology, engineering and math programs embedded in area high schools.

“We need to plant the seed early so that the minority representation across healthcare profession is profound,” Steed said.

MetroHealth’s stable financial position has helped it invest in capital projects, Steed said, noting the $42 million behavioral health hospital that opened in Northeast Ohio in October. The 112-bed facility offers treatment for bipolar disorder, depression, addiction and mood disorders.

Through the fist nine months of MetroHealth’s fiscal year ended Sept. 30, the system reported $24.3 million in operating income on $1.15 billion of operating revenue. It had $76.8 million in operating income on $1.11 billion of operating revenue in the year-ago period. 

MetroHealth had 175 days cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Similarly rated nonprofit systems had 190 median days cash on hand in 2021, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

“I can’t emphasize how excited I am to take the helm and extremely proud of being the first Black person and first female nurse to lead this storied 185-year-old organization,” Steed said. “I am extremely confident in what the future holds.”

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