It’s the first working week for the new CEO and President of Akron Children’s Hospital, Christopher Gessner.
One of his goals, Gessner said, is to expand the hospital’s behavioral and mental health services. Mental health problems in children and adolescents such as anxiety are “exploding” due to the insecurities and disruptions to daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said during a news conference Wednesday.
“I think it built up over time, but I think what we saw … is just a huge demand in the emergency room and other areas for children who come in a very anxious state or a concerned state,” said Gessner. “We’re already trying to find better ways to provide this care – how to tap into virtual health services and deliver them to patients in a very convenient, high-quality way through telemedicine.”
Gessner picked up questions from the media to discuss his plans for the hospital’s future.
“I’ve long been a long-distance admirer of Akron Children’s,” Gessner said at the press conference. “I just couldn’t miss this perfect opportunity to come back and share my experience and skills I’ve developed over the years with this wonderful organization with great culture and community support in Northeast Ohio . ”
Gessner, who took up the position Oct. 18, said he has several other goals for the hospital system, but first on his agenda is to learn more about the Northeast Ohio region and the community that the hospital system serves.
“I’m an outsider, but I know the importance of getting to know the communities we represent,” he said.
Born in Pennsylvania, Gessner is returning to the Midwest after nearly two years as President of the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital near Denver. Prior to that, he was President of the Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital for a decade.
Gessner enters the hospital system amid a major nationwide health care labor shortage. Akron Children’s like other hospitals across the country is suffering from staff shortages in all departments, Gessner said.
Hospital officials are trying to combat this by finding better ways to recruit and retain staff, such as career advancement and support, Gessner said.
“I think healthcare executives will be challenged to think about different ways of staffing and using technology and remote monitoring, etc. to make our employees more efficient and productive so that we can handle the care needs that come our way.” … fewer staff than [they have] in the past, ”he said.
Another priority is to work out the logistics of the hospital’s COVID-19 vaccine policy. Employees are currently not required to get the vaccine, but if they don’t choose they will need to be tested for the virus every week, he said.
“We are working on setting up this testing program so that it is convenient for all of our various employees,” said Gessner. “We are currently working through the logistics and then we will initiate the program in the near future.”
Gessner said he was not sure about the hospital system’s current vaccination rate.
In addition to vaccinating staff, hospital officials are also encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations for patients. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to soon approve the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11, and Gessner said Akron Children’s is preparing to have these vaccinations in the hospital’s pediatric offices and on the main campus as well as in the health clinics of schools.
“Children, even if they don’t get as sick as some adults… they can spread the disease, and I think it’s part of our duty here at Children’s to help parents understand the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine and the importance of this vaccine . “, Said Gessner.
In a press release, Akron Children officials said they hope Gessner continues to guide the hospital through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, while expanding the way the hospital system provides care.
“I am honored to join the Akron Children’s team and to work with the talented staff, physicians, and experienced practice providers to deliver world-class care to children in northeast Ohio and beyond. The hospital is clearly part of the many communities it serves and I look forward to building on that strong sense of community, ”Gessner said in the press release.
Gessner takes over the reins from Grace Wakulchik, who served as President since 2018. Wakulchik is retiring after nearly 30 years in the hospital system – initially as a registered nurse and working her way up through administrative roles before eventually becoming President and CEO.
“I have been honored to lead Akron Children’s because of the unique culture that has preceded me and will continue because it is in the DNA of our organization. Every employee here makes a difference in the lives of children and families every day, ”Wakulchik said in the statement.
Akron Children’s has two main locations, 35 pediatrician offices, 50 primary and specialty care centers, and four emergency departments in several counties in the region.