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After more than 42 years in health care and nearly 30 years at Akron Children’s Hospital, retiring President and CEO Grace Wakulchik is ready for her next chapter.
That includes moving closer to one daughter in Lakewood and traveling to see her other four kids and grandchildren.
“It’s been a really a great opportunity to participate and work in a career where you feel like you can make a difference every day in the lives of kids and families that you serve,” Wakulchik, 65, said.
Akron Children’s was recently ranked the No. 16 pediatric hospital in the world in a new Newsweek ranking of World’s Best Specialized Hospitals, which is a huge accomplishment, Wakulchik said.
“To leave on that note, I’m so proud of the work that our teams have done, our providers have done, the projects that we’ve done, the growth that we’ve seen happen and the support of our community,” she said.
Wakulchik has provided “strong and steady leadership,” especially during the coronavirus pandemic,” said John C. Orr, chairman of the Akron Children’s Board of Directors. “Even in the midst of those challenges, she continued to advance the hospital forward in exciting new ways.”
Proud of her accomplishments
Wakulchik said she is proud that under her tenure, the health system’s service area expanded south to Marietta and northwest to Lorain County. Akron Children’s Mahoning Valley campus also expanded its behavioral health services and plans are underway to expand its emergency department. She also launched a Centers of Excellence initiative to highlight hospital programs with potential regional or national impact.
She put a high priority on the hospital’s digital transformation, including the electronic medical record system and telehealth services, and creating and hiring a new executive level position overseeing data analytics.
Expanding the health centers means “Akron Children’s would be the first place you would think of going because they have the premier clinical providers, the research, the new knowledge, the education related to those specialties,” Wakulchik said.
Wakulchik said she also is proud of a recent new company the health system created to help coordinate and improve overall care of 100,000 Medicaid patients in a 13-county region.
Wakulchik said she leaves the hospital in “tremendous financial shape.”
“We have been very good at managing our expenses. Even through this pandemic, we’ve been very careful and so we are in a good financial position and we’re not in risk of being taken over,” she said. “The community sees us as their asset and they’re very passionate about making sure that we are here to serve kids.”
Wakulchik has been talking once or twice a week to new hospital leader Chris Gessner since he was named to get him up to speed on internal and community initiatives.
“We’re trying to help him not only learn the internal people and internal leaders…but really to understand that you didn’t just get hired by a hospital, you got hired by community,” she said.
Travel and grandkids
Wakulchik’s father was in the Armed Services and she was born in Germany. The family moved to Cuyahoga Falls, where she attended 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 began her career as a registered nurse and during her nearly 30 years at Akron Children’s, rose through the ranks to become chief nursing officer, chief operating officer, president and, finally, president and CEO in October 2018.
In retirement, Wakulchik does not plan to stay on the many boards in the Akron area that she has been involved with since she is moving.
In retirement, Wakulchik plans on spending time with her four grown children, one granchild and twins on the way (her daughters are twins).
“My kids are everywhere. They’re in California, they’re in Colorado,” so Wakulchik said she plans on traveling, gardening and maybe volunteering at a hospital in another state.
She recently sold her house in Hudson in a day and will spend time at her cottage in Michigan and with her her daughter in Lakewood, who converted an old “maid’s quarters” into an apartment.
“I argued that it’s still going to be the maid’s quarters or nanny’s quarters,” joked Wakulchik, “but I plan to mostly travel or be up in Michigan.”
“I’ll be back to visit,” she said. “There are a great number of folks here I’ve grown to treasure over the years.”
Beacon Journal staff reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ To see her most recent stories and columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher