After nearly 40 years at the helm of Akron Children’s Hospital, Bill Considine is becoming CEO emeritus and Grace Wakulchik is taking over as the chief executive of the independent pediatric hospital.
The transition is effective Thursday.
Wakulchik, 62, is no stranger to the health system, which has 6,200 employees and includes two freestanding hospital campuses and more than 60 service locations throughout Northeast Ohio.
Wakulchik, a registered nurse, has been at the hospital for 26 years and was named its president in June 2017.
She becomes only the third CEO at the hospital since 1944 and its first female leader. Considine, 71, became CEO at Children's when he was 32. His predecessor, the late Roger Sherman, led for 35 years. (The hospital traces its roots to 1890, but previous leaders were not CEOs.)
Considine will stay on through Jan. 1, 2020, focusing on child advocacy issues.
Wakulchik has agreed to serve as CEO through the end of 2021.
Wakulchik said she never imagined she would become Children’s CEO. She intended to retire with Considine.
Now she is honored to continue to build on Considine’s legacy.
“Having been here since 1992, it's part of your family,” she said. “The people are so wonderful, the mission is so amazing. If I can help the organization transition, that’s something I want to do.”
But Wakulchik is quick to say no one can fill Considine’s shoes.
“I can only be the kind of leader I am. I can’t be Bill,” she said.
Considine said he has confidence in Wakulchik and made clear to his board of directors that he believed an internal candidate would be the best.
“Grace is the best candidate to move into this role. After you get the best, it just so happens she’s a woman. That makes this even more powerful,” Considine said.
Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro — the state’s first female county executive — said the community got a “twofer” in getting a strong and female leader.
“To see a talented, bright woman rising to the highest ranks in our community is a sign of how this community is growing and changing,” Shapiro said.
Children’s Hospital Board Chair John Orr said the board didn’t want a revolutionary change, but an evolutionary change in the leader to follow Considine.
“As we looked for the right successor, it was hands-down that Grace is the right person,” Orr said.
Considine will “leave a massive gap” but “to have Grace here to propagate and strengthen the culture and help with the structure is really a brilliant stroke,” said Dr. Norm Christopher, a 24-year Children’s veteran and chair of the pediatrics division.
“Grace, a nurse by training and as an operations person, is very keen on detail and day to day, minute to minute management,” he said.
In addition to maintaining the hospital’s independence and culture, Wakulchik said her goals include increasing access to care for patients. Children’s will continue to grow in the region to offer outpatient care, providing telehealth services and remote patient monitoring at community emergency rooms. She also wants to continue to recruit talent to the hospital, reduce the cost of care for patients and possibly bring back a renal transplant program.
A native of the Akron area, Wakulchik attended Cuyahoga Falls High School until her senior year when her mother died of a brain tumor. The family moved and Wakulchik graduated from Mayfield High School.
Wakulchik earned undergraduate degrees in sociology and nursing and a master’s degree in nursing from Case Western Reserve University. She also has an MBA from Kent State University.
Now divorced, Wakulchik met her husband at Case, where he was in medical school studying family practice. They moved to Columbia, Mo., where Wakulchik was a nurse manager of the neonatal unit. She also had twin girls, who were born premature and had to spend time in that neonatal unit. She rose to become director of nursing at the University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics. She was going to pursue a master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner, but realized she needed to go into administration as a career when she saw she couldn’t “change things fast enough in health care being by the bedside.”
The family moved to the small rural town of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where Wakulchik had two sons and worked as a nursing supervisor and taught at the University of Scranton.
The family moved back to Akron in 1992. She was hired at Children’s and began working part-time on a career ladder program for nurses. Wakulchik eventually rose to director of nursing and chief nursing officer in 2003 and chief operating officer and vice president of operations in 2010.
Considine said he and Wakulchik share more similarities than differences.
But while he makes more decisions with his gut, Wakulchik is more data-driven. Wakulchik pointed to two large TV screens in her office, which show constant data.
Considine said Wakulchik also will better utilize and delegate among the hospital’s strong senior leadership team — both inside the hospital and in community leadership roles.
“I know for a fact that the credibility Grace has throughout the organization is the max, but she won’t even accept that. She’ll take it higher,” Considine said.
Considine said above all, Wakulchik understands the culture of the fiercely independent hospital system with the personal touch.
“It’s saying hi to the people in the hallways. It’s picking up trash on the floor,” Considine said.
And, in fact, on a recent day, Wakulchik walked off an elevator at the hospital and stopped to pick up a piece of trash. Later, she said she didn’t even notice her action.
But employees notice.
Meenu Bansal, a registered nurse and clinical coordinator for products and technology, said she thinks of Wakulchik as a “good inspirational leader who is transformational.”
But like Considine, who greets everyone from patients to housekeeping employees in the hallways, Wakulchik gives off the same sense of family, said Bansal.
Bansal, who has been with Children’s for 13 years, recently came back from a maternity leave. She and Wakulchik were on the elevator at the same time and Bansal was holding three bags.
Wakulchik said, “Meenu, let me help you with those.”
“I looked at her like, ‘OK, this is kind of weird. You’re the president. You shouldn’t be holding my bags,’ ” Bansal recalled.
Bansal declined the offer, but said, “I was just really humbled that she’s asking me if she could hold my stuff.”
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty