The MetroHealth System helps every patient who comes through its doors, regardless of their ability to pay. It’s noble work that provides a unique challenge for those tasked with operating the organization like a business.
“You have to be efficient, and you have to add value to what’s going on,” says Thomas M. McDonald, chairman emeritus at MetroHealth. “We will always be the safety net hospital. If you can’t go somewhere else, we’ll take you, and we’ll take good care of you. The hospital system has to have the ability to pay for that quality care, and that means we need to have profits. We do. We didn’t always, and it was scary.”
A bolt of energy
In 2008, MetroHealth was losing money and struggling to maintain strong leadership.
“At one point in 2008, maybe 2009, I think we had one person in the C-Suite who was not interim,” McDonald says. “So you ask me what the biggest challenge was? It was to get the place stabilized and find someone to run the system, a new CEO.”
McDonald and his team thought they had found the answer before their candidate abruptly decided not to take the job. A new search ensued and led the search committee to Akram Boutros, M.D., FACHE.
“If you’ve met Akram, you know the force of his personality,” McDonald says. “Everybody rallies around him, and the people he has hired are nothing short of world class.”
Boutros stabilized MetroHealth in multiple ways. In May 2017, $946 million in hospital-revenue bonds were sold to fund a new hospital slated to open in 2022; as a result, no taxpayer money is being used on the project. MetroHealth has served 300,000 patients at more than 1.4 million visit to its hospitals and health centers in the past year.
By day, McDonald is founder, president and CEO of McDonald Partners, a full-service brokerage and investment advisory firm. After guiding the search to find Boutros and spending six years as board chairman at MetroHealth, he shifted to chairman emeritus in March. As he looks back, McDonald deflects any credit for his role in guiding the organization through the dark days.
“There were times we’d sit in the boardroom and not know how we were going to get through the next month,” McDonald says. “Mark Moran, who was the acting CEO at that time, saved the hospital. He did the stuff you have to do when you’re in that situation. It was tough, and his job was tough. But we’re still here.”
For the first time in its 181-year history, MetroHealth is able to provide care for patients outside Cuyahoga County. The opportunity was made possible by the passage of Ohio House Bill 111 in 2018.
“This allows us to operate in the nine contiguous counties to Cuyahoga and Summit counties, which gives us the opportunity to grow,” McDonald says. “We’ve taken advantage of that.”