Transition Year at Akron Children’s Hospital

AKRON – New leadership calls 2022 a transition year at Akron Children’s Hospital.

The last time Akron Children’s Hospital brought in someone from the outside to lead the organization was 1979. So, it’s natural to call President and CEO Chris Gessner’s 2022 a true transition year.

Gessner took over for Grace Wakulchik, who retired in October 2021 and had been with the hospital for nearly 30 years. Before Wakulchik was president and CEO, long-time executive Bill Considine held the position.

Gessner spent much of 2022 listening, learning, reframing and refocusing the hospital’s priorities with an emphasis on access to care, digital transformation, mental health services and strategic growth.

“I’m proud to be part of an organization that is completely devoted to providing world-class care to kids, teens and young adults every single day and addressing unmet pediatric health care needs in the communities we serve,” Gessner says. “We have a huge responsibility that we take very seriously. I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish in 2023.”

In April, a years-long construction project will be completed with the opening of the Beeghly campus’ new emergency department.

The existing ED, which sits directly behind the new construction, has consistently seen twice as many patients than it was designed to treat.

“The importance of a pediatric emergency department was made more important in light of COVID,” says Paul Olivier, vice president of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley. “It showed we needed more space for treating patients and social distancing, as well as a more efficient layout for patients and clinical staff.”

The ED expansion was largely donor-funded, with the largest single donation coming from Leonard J. “Lenny” Fisher. In total, Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation Mahoning Valley raised $3 million toward construction in just one year, surpassing its timeline goal by an entire year.

“The warmth and generosity of the community was made clear in the fundraising to build this new ED,” says Luann Maynard, director of development, Mahoning Valley. “When the Mahoning Valley community believes in something, they get behind it.”

The new facility will increase the emergency department’s square footage from 9,600 to 34,700. It will feature 23 treatment rooms, all designed with input from patient families and staff.

Included among the new amenities are three behavioral health rooms specially designed to take patients who are facing emotional and behavioral emergencies. The current department has one such room that is often occupied.

These rooms complement the nine individual therapy rooms plus group therapy spaces and space for a partial hospitalization program at the Teegan Kamzelski Building on the Beeghly campus, which opened in late 2019.

Gessner often points to the center as a model for similar behavioral health spaces planned for opening in Canton and Mansfield in 2023.

Another way Akron Children’s is expanding access to care is by providing care directly in local schools. Warren G. Harding, East Palestine and Sebring each use the hospital’s school-based health and telehealth services.

In 2023, Akron Children’s will open a pediatrics office at the Community Literacy Workforce and Cultural Center in the Campbell City Schools to offer primary care along with some behavioral health services.”

“We’re always continuing to evolve to provide the best way to deliver care to our patients. And that’s driven by convenience and access,” Gessner says.

In addition to money raised for the emergency department, the Akron Children’s Hospital Foundation raised $254,036 for patients and families with the help of iHeart Media during the Miracles & Promises Radiothon.

The foundation also received a $474,609 donation from the Kikel Charitable Foundation to support local hospital programs and equipment needs.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.