For as long as Elena Rossi, MD, medical director for special projects, can remember, she has had a vision to guide her. Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, she recalled sitting beside her older brother’s, Danny, hospital bed while he received blood transfusions to treat anemia. It sparked a desire to go into medicine and help children, a goal she achieved as a neonatologist working in the Mahoning Valley.
Over the years, her vision broadened as new opportunities opened more doors. The vision that allowed Dr. Rossi to make the biggest impact on the most people was being part of the growth of Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley. It required a lot of perseverance, however.
“Tod Children’s Hospital was closing,” Dr. Rossi said. “Akron Children’s already had a presence in the area and was able to expand to fill the void. We worked hard to prove ourselves and show the Mahoning Valley we are here to stay. We’ve shown that we are champions for children.”
The effort paid off. Fifteen years later, Akron Children’s presence in the Mahoning Valley has grown tremendously, adding services and locations to meet the needs of families in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.
After more than 40 years in medicine, the last 15 spent at Children’s, Dr. Rossi is retiring on December 15. She leaves feeling proud of her contributions to her hometown and the Mahoning Valley. Her future plans include seeing family, volunteering, golfing and traveling.
What brought you to Children’s?
I’ve been a neonatologist for many years, practicing in the Youngstown area at Mercy Health-St. Elizabeth’s Youngstown Hospital and Akron Children’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Mercy Health-St. Elizabeth’s. I was encouraged to pursue more education, eventually moving into hospital administration at St. Elizabeth’s. I became neonatology director and pediatrics department chair. In these roles, I met Akron Children’s leadership and when Children’s began to increase its presence in the Mahoning Valley, I was part of that team. In 2008, I was hired by Akron Children’s and continued clinical practice until 2020.
Have you always worked in the same department and role?
Since joining Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley, I’ve served as vice chair of the pediatrics department. Later, I became medical director. This role involved building relationships with pediatricians, adding providers and services to grow Children’s Beeghly campus and addressing issues that came up.
In 2016, I became medical director for special projects, reporting to Robert McGregor, MD, chief medical officer. These projects have addressed infant mortality, safe sleep and ways to improve birth outcomes. Some projects are shaping the future of health care. For example, the Akron Children’s Health Collaborative (ACHC) is an innovative model designed to improve children’s health outcomes through partnerships with managed care companies.
What have your biggest contributions been while here?
I was on the team that interviewed and hired the first employee for Children’s Mahoning Valley. We now have more than 800 employees locally.
As a neonatologist, fragile babies have always been a priority for me. In 2014, I was on the team that designed single patient rooms for the NICU at St. Elizabeth Boardman Hospital. Within Akron Children’s, Mahoning Valley was the first to open these private rooms. I’m particularly fond of this project, which stemmed from the Pavalko family, who I met in 1997. Their son, Nathan Pavalko was born with a fatal chromosomal abnormality. We didn’t have single rooms in the NICU then. His family left an impression that changed my career and shaped the work I do to bring family-centered care to our patients and their families.
Besides my contributions on the ACHC team, I worked on the search committee that recently hired Marya Strand, MD, chair of Akron Children’s newly formed Department of Neonatal and Perinatal Medicine, which brings together the Neonatology and Maternal Fetal Medicine departments. It’s a good feeling to know this team in in place to prioritize the health and well-being of neonates, mothers and families across the continuum of perinatal care.
What are your most memorable moments at Akron Children’s?
When the NICU at St. Elizabeth Boardman opened in 2014, we successfully transported 12 NICU babies from St. Elizabeth’s Youngstown to the private rooms. Another moment was representing Akron Children’s at “Cleveland’s Dancing with the Stars” in 2009.
More recently, it was the way Children’s implemented telehealth to ensure our patients and their families had access to health care. Growing up, my favorite cartoon was “The Jetsons.” It envisioned technologies that society now uses, like telehealth. What we thought was far-fetched now exists and is being used in ways that benefit our patients.
What do you look forward to the most in retirement?
Being with my family. My father and siblings and their families live in the Mahoning Valley. My children and their spouses are in Nashville and Cincinnati and I’d like to be a bigger part of their lives. Both of my kids had children in 2021. If that wasn’t great enough, it was also the year that I got my first hole in one on the golf course!