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Behavioral Health

Amid Agency’s Struggles, CEO of Dallas County’s Largest Mental Health Provider Gets One-Year Contract

By Shawn Shinneman |

The Metrocare Services Board of Trustees renewed the contract of its chief executive officer for one year on Thursday afternoon, without a raise in salary but with the possibility of a bonus of up to $50,000.

Dr. John Burruss will remain the agency’s leader amid its financial struggles and after a lengthy CEO evaluation process. The board will have discretion to grant the bonus and decide its amount, Board President Terry James said Thursday. Burruss makes a salary of $382,347 and has received two $50,000 bonuses in the last three years.

Burruss doesn’t receive a raise but could earn a bonus at the discretion of the Metrocare board.

Burruss’ three-year contract as CEO was set to expire June 30, after the board had previously authorized a two-month extension to move the deadline from late April.

The one-year contract was the right structure for Metrocare “considering where the center is,” Board President Terry James said after the meeting. “Just looking at where we are—our financial situation, services, everything like that.”

Asked whether the board explored the idea of dismissing Burruss, James replied: “We are confident in Dr. Burruss and his leadership of the organization.” He reiterated that phrase when pressed.

On the reasoning behind the two-month extension, James said: “You know, it takes time to be able to work on contracts.”

Dr. Leslie Secrest, a board member who headed the CEO evaluation committee, spoke of the opportunity to innovate within the behavioral health space after Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m not speaking as a board member, but in my opinion if you’re going to be innovative you’ve got to take risks,” he said. “I think the challenge of this organization moving forward is not to allow something that didn’t work out so well to keep you from taking risks and being innovative.”

Asked whether a software operation called XenatiX that was started within Metrocare under Burruss’ leadership and later sold at a significant loss factored into discussions about Burruss’ future, Secrest retreated.

“I can’t answer that,” he said. “That gets into talking as a board member, and those things went on in closed session.”

Metrocare is the largest provider of mental health services in Dallas County. It serves 57,000 adults and children a year, with a board of trustees appointed by the County Commissioners.

In February, D CEO Healthcare published a story diving into the financial woes at the agency. A tumultuous 2017 started with Metrocare’s inability to secure a loan and ended with it having to send patients elsewhere to fill prescriptions after being unable to pay pharmaceutical vendors.

Under Burruss, once-healthy cash reserves have fallen millions of dollars into the red. He backed up his spending—during that February story—as an investment in what he sees as an opportunity awaiting the agency.

On April 30 of this year, Metrocare implemented layoffs, closed a clinic, and froze salaries for administrators, executives, and managers. In a letter to staff, obtained by D CEO Healthcare, he said Metrocare is “wrestling with hard financial choices” and that “two more difficult steps”—staff reductions and salary freezes—”are needed for Metrocare to overcome this challenge.”

Citing previous coverage, Burruss declined to comment on Thursday after the meeting.