To Chris Gessner, there’s nothing in the health care industry quite as special as a children’s hospital.
“I believe it’s the deep connections they have with the communities they serve,” said Chris. “And Akron Children’s community connections are deep and pervasive. It was one of the main things that attracted me here.”
Chris began his new role as president and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital in October 2021, succeeding the now-retired Grace Wakulchik after her 40-year health care career.
“There’s been great leadership at Akron Children’s that has really set the bar high,” said Chris. “And as all great leaders, they’ve passed on that culture to a wonderful group of employees. It feels great to become part of that team.”
Bringing more than 30 years of health care experience to Akron
A native of Ligonier, Pennsylvania, and the son of a physician, Chris earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of William and Mary and master’s degrees in health care administration and business from the University of Pittsburgh. He spent nearly two decades in administrative roles at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, part of the UPMC Health System, including serving as president from 2008 to 2019. And from 2019 to 2021, he served as president and CEO of UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
Coming to Akron Children’s, Chris is excited he joined a culture with values that closely align with his own.
“I think it’s important to help others in less fortunate situations, and that just comes out so clearly at Akron Children’s,” said Chris. “I believe in excellence and striving to do your best every day. I enjoy creativity, and I see lots of desire to innovate and develop new programs and services that the community needs. I also highly value reliability. This hospital has built a trust with the community over many years. I think it’s because of its consistent standards of service and the quality it has provided. The people in northeast Ohio know that no matter which Akron Children’s facility they visit, they’re going to get top-notch care.”
John Orr, chairman of the Akron Children’s board of directors, said Chris is both an accomplished and visionary leader who understands the complexities of the world of health care today. He also shares the board’s commitment to keeping Akron Children’s an independent, free-standing and locally governed children’s hospital system.
“I’m really looking forward to working shoulder to shoulder with providers and staff to continuously improve quality and safety,” said Chris. “I’m also looking forward to helping the hospital transition from being an episodic provider of care to a provider who takes responsibility for someone’s entire health status. So we’re not just helping children and young adults when they’re sick; we’re helping them to stay healthy and avoid getting sick. I have some experience in that area. It’s challenging, but we’re well-positioned to have a significant impact on child health.”
Coming together for a stronger future
As Chris sets his sights on the future, one word continues to come to mind: collaboration.
“The pandemic has helped us learn the importance of public health and health care entities working together,” said Chris. “I would like to see more collaborative partnerships, and certainly Akron Children’s has led the way on this front.”
To improve the factors that influence a child’s health outside the walls of our hospital, such as food security, he also sees the importance of joining forces with more community service organizations and agencies.
And the relationship with our community of donors is an ongoing priority. Philanthropy will continue to be a source of innovation for our hospital, funding programs and services that insurance companies and government funds don’t typically support – but that our patients and their families truly deserve and need.
“I think philanthropy really is the difference maker,” said Chris. “It helps programs and services go from good to great, great to extraordinary and then extraordinary to magical.”
Philanthropy also will continue to act as a symbol of support for our staff.
“The power of a gift goes way beyond just the financial contribution – it gets into the soul of the organization,” said Chris. “When a donor makes a gift to our hospital, it creates a feeling among our staff that we’re supported and that we’re all in this together. That’s really valuable for our team. This spirit of philanthropy is alive and well here at Akron Children’s, and we want to keep taking it to the next level.”