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New Akron Children's Hospital President, Chris Gessner, takes on pandemic challenges

Worker shortage, vaccines among priorities
Posted at 4:53 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 18:36:28-04

AKRON, Ohio — Christopher Gessner is facing several challenges as the new president of Akron Children's Hospital, most among them is addressing the shortage of healthcare workers.

"We are definitely experiencing the same type of staffing shortages that all hospitals are," Gessner said.

Gessner, who came to Akron from Colorado where he was the president and CEO of UCHealth University of Colorado, said the pandemic has turned the labor market upside down and the shortage of workers at Akron Children's is across the board.

"It's nurses. It's critical care nurses. It's medical assistants. It's technicians," he said.

The leader of the hospital said some employees have been traumatized by the pandemic, so recruiting and retaining workers needs to be a top priority.

He plans to look at several variables over the next 90 days, including employee pay, work-from-home hybrid models, and improving productivity while maintaining quality patient care.

"We're really listening hard to those staff that have been here to try to understand what we can do so that they're more comfortable," he said.

Gessner also touched on the issue of vaccines for employees and the possibility of administering shots for younger children in the near future.

While the hospital does not have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees, they will be required to be tested at least once a week if not vaccinated. The timeline for when that testing will begin hasn't been finalized.

"We're big believers in vaccination. We think that's the ultimate way to end this pandemic," he said.

For several months, Akron Children's has been vaccinating kids 12-years-old and older at the hospital, doctor's offices, and in schools.

"I think we're doing 2,000 children a month and we've vaccinated about 15,000 children so far," Gessner said.

The White House announced plans to roll out vaccines for kids aged 5 to 11. The federal government has bought enough vaccines for 28 million children in that age group.

The vaccines are expected to be distributed to pharmacies, pediatricians, health centers, schools, and other community-based sites.

The FDA and CDC are expected to approve the vaccines for kids in a matter of weeks.

Gessner said Akron's Children's is waiting for the green light.

"Our plan would be as soon as we get final approval for the vaccine in terms of safety and efficacy for children 5 to 11, we will begin to vaccinate those children as well."

Gessner added that while most kids don't get sick from the virus, some do. He believes getting the vaccine into younger children will protect others.

"They can spread the disease and I think it's part of our duty here at Children's to help parents understand that safety and efficacy of this and the importance of getting this vaccine," he said.

Gessner said another priority is providing more options for behavioral healthcare. He said the need has exploded during the pandemic among children.

"Just a tremendous demand in the emergency department and other areas for children that are coming in an anxious state."

Gessner acknowledged meeting all of these challenges in a pandemic is tough, but he's ready to take them on and feels optimistic about the future.

"I think there's an opportunity here to have a big impact though and be considered one of the most impactful children's hospitals in the world."