Executive of the Year Award

Melissa Wervey Arnold, CEO, Ohio Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics

The Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics has touched the lives of 865,000 children under the leadership of Melissa Wervey Arnold.

During Arnold’s 13 years at the helm, she has innovated programs, education and offerings to help the association’s more than 2,900 pediatricians provide optimal care for children across the state.

As the chapter and its impact have grown—it is the third-largest of 66 chapters nationally—so too has the industry’s respect for Arnold, who also serves as executive director of the related Ohio American Academy of Pediatrics Foundation.

“She is truly a leader and innovator in pediatric health at the state and even national level,” says Dr. Michael Gittelman, president of the Ohio AAP Board of Directors.

Arnold previously served as director of development for New Directions Career Center and as director of communications and education for the Ohio Psychological Association. It’s those experiences, she says, that primed her to run the Ohio AAP, just as the organization was looking for its first full-time executive director to build up the brand.

And build she has.

The chapter’s operating budget has grown by 800 percent in the past decade, and Arnold has helped develop relationships to secure funding partnerships supporting over $18 million in children’s health programs.

Among her many successes, Arnold helped to develop and implement programs on major pediatric topics including obesity, immunizations, injury, mental wellness, vision screening, smoking cessation and teen issues. She convened the appropriate stakeholders, Gittelman says, in order to bring the programs to the pediatric offices of all members, free of charge.

In addition to her innovative approaches to supporting the academy’s membership, Arnold has worked with state legislators and relevant agencies to ensure children are safe and healthy, including by helping to pass a booster seat law in Ohio.

With the approach of a public company CEO, Arnold sets measurable goals for each employee and ensures the organization is demonstrating return on investment for programs. For example, the Ohio AAP’s bike helmet safety awareness campaign, Put a Lid On It, has delivered a potential return on investment of more than $1.24 million, based on the finding that a $10 bike helmet saves the healthcare system $41 per child.

What’s less measurable is her mentorship of young staff. She is always looking for opportunities to help those around her elevate their knowledge and careers to the next level.

“I think the biggest thing I try to do is recognize where people’s talents are, and take that talent, and find their passion, and put it to work,” she says. “I’m big on relationship-building.”

Those who work with Arnold say she has a special ability to assemble and inspire teams.

“She is great at listening to others, but {also} really giving her input and saying, great point {but} maybe we should also think of it this way,” Gittelman says. “She’s never confrontational; she’s always inclusive.”

The organization used to have about 15 different committees, Gittelman recalls. After reading a book called Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations, Arnold shared it with the board of directors, which ultimately led to a restructuring of the organization to incorporate pillars instead of committees.

The work represents more than just a job for Arnold, who says being a mother shapes her perspective in the case of immunizations and other critical pediatric issues.

“To me, it’s personal, it’s something that I truly believe in,” she says. “I think it’s a whole different experience when you’re [working for] a mission-driven organization.”

When she started at Ohio AAP, the organization had the equivalent of two full-time employees. Today, she leads nine employees and 25 contractors and has helped the chapter earn the Outstanding Very Large Chapter Award from the National AAP for three times. The chapter not only survived more difficult economic times, but grew and thrived under Arnold’s guidance. During her tenure, the operating budget has increased from $300,000 to more than $2.7 million.

National AAP C-suite executives and physician leaders call upon Arnold to advise them on issues with state chapters, staff, programs, education and pediatric industry trends.

“I think I have grown probably as much as the organization, just being surrounded by the amazing team we have,” Arnold says of her time at the helm. “It’s my job—it’s what I do—but it’s what I love doing.”


Charles Gehring, LifeCare Alliance
Charles Gehring has earned considerable success during his 17 years as president and CEO of LifeCare Alliance. The organization has tripled the number of clients it serves, increased fundraising from 4 percent to 25 percent of the agency’s revenue, raised $7.2 million to purchase and renovate a warehouse and reduced the agency’s reliance on government money.

Gehring spearheaded the group’s Success Model, which allows it to meet the needs of clients without a waiting list, and helped transform the Meals-on-Wheels delivery system to improve quality while reducing costs and employee turnover. The endowment he helped build will support the alliance for years to come.

Evan Weese is a freelance writer.


The 2019 Healthcare Achievement Awards are Thursday, March 28, at The Estate at New Albany. Tickets are on sale now.