Here's how Charles Gehring is advocating for the poor, elderly and disabled populations

Laura Newpoff
For Columbus CEO
Charles Gehring, president and CEO, LifeCare Alliance

In the early days of the pandemic, it was apparent vulnerable populations would bear the brunt of what would become an unprecedented health crisis. That’s because the poor, the elderly and the disabled often face barriers to care and the resources they need to stay healthy.

In central Ohio, the nonprofit that helps this population through a variety of programs, including Meals-on-Wheels, is LifeCare Alliance. In March 2020, when the reality of COVID-19 was setting in, Charles Gehring, the nonprofit’s chief executive and Columbus CEO's 2022 Healthcare Achievement Awards Executive of the Year, got a call from Douglas Kridler, president and CEO of the Columbus Foundation. Their conversation went like this.

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Kridler: “We know you have the target population for this. What do you need?”

Gehring: “Well, I need people and I need money, but I just don’t know how much.”

Gehring never quoted an amount. Kridler sent him a check for $300,000.

The Columbus Foundation’s support would be a godsend. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, LifeCare Alliance typically provided around 15,400 weekly Meals-on-Wheels. That number grew to 25,800 meals in the early months of COVID-19. Even today, demand remains up 60 percent compared with pre-COVID-19 numbers. Remarkably, LifeCare Alliance continues to accept all those who qualify into the program. That contrasts with a 2020 Meals-on-Wheels of America survey that found that 55 percent of programs nationally have increased their already existing wait lists.

In addition to the Columbus Foundation’s support, the nonprofit also benefitted from personal and grantor donations, 1,100 new volunteers and support from the corporate community. Bath & Body Works, for example, helped LifeCare Alliance’s Help-at-Home program with donations of soaps and hand sanitizers.

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“The thing that helped us is that the community stepped up,” Gehring says. “The outpouring of love and support has been unbelievable. There have been some days where I sat here and couldn’t believe what was coming in.”

LifeCare Alliance 2021 highlights

Gehring’s leadership at LifeCare Alliance has led to significant capital improvements, a vast reduction in reliance on government funding and a heightened emphasis on fundraising. Recent years have seen a successful $7.2 million capital campaign and the establishment of a $20 million endowment. The former allowed LifeCare Alliance to purchase and renovate a warehouse, converting it to a Meals-on-Wheels distribution center, food pantry, senior dining center, community wellness center and donation storage space. This expansion will help the nonprofit address the rapidly growing senior population.

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Other highlights from 2021 include:

• To help congregate dining centers that closed, LifeCare Alliance innovated grab-and-go programs, as well as a drive-thru at Carrie’s Café on Harmon Avenue.

• The Senior Farmer’s Market program delivered thousands of produce boxes.

• Senior PetCare served more than 1,200 pets, allowing Meals-on-Wheels participants to continue to enjoy the companionship of their best friends.

• The Columbus Cancer Clinic’s Groceries-to-Go pantry delivered food to clients who couldn’t risk exposure to COVID-19.

• Diabetes Dayton, which merged into LifeCare Alliance in 2020, expanded services with the addition of a dietitian.

• IMPACT Safety expanded programming, initiating “IMPACTABILTY” for those with developmental disabilities.

• In October, LifeCare Alliance held its Big Wheels signature fundraiser, one of the only in-person fundraisers held in central Ohio during 2021.

• LifeCare Alliance began formal diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in 2021.

“Chuck is a leader who has the ability and acumen to see things from a big picture and run the agency like a business so we have become sustainable, efficient and stable, which enabled us to remain successful even in the midst of a devastating pandemic,” says Rebecca Hurd, vice president of advancement at LifeCare Alliance.

Key to that has been Gehring’s commitment to diversify funding sources so the nonprofit isn’t solely reliant on government money or United Way dollars.

“When Chuck started with LifeCare Alliance, he began focusing on fundraising and getting the agency’s name into the community, growing its presence,” Hurd says. “His commitment to building significant support over many years was key to weathering the pandemic from a position of strength and stability. [Because Gehring] cultivated two decades of strong partnerships, strong fundraising and support, there are many community champions who know the critical importance of our basic needs support for thousands of central Ohio neighbors.”

Gehring, who is 65, isn’t ready to retire. When he does, he hopes the board promotes from within. “[Our employees], the past places they’ve been, the thought is, ‘Oh, I’ll never have a chance.’ Here, you have a chance.”

Laura Newpoff is a freelance writer.

Charles Gehring

President and CEO, LifeCare Alliance 

In position since: 2001 

Experience: Former adjunct professor with Franklin University where he designed and instructed a course for the Master of Human Services Management program. Prior to joining LifeCare Alliance, Gehring was executive vice president and chief operating officer for Catholic Social Services. Prior to entering the nonprofit world, he was with Sanese Services.

Education: B.S. in accounting, Ohio State University; master’s degree in business administration, Xavier University

Community involvement: Current member, former chair of the advisory board, Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging; former member, board of directors, Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce; former board member, Ohio Dominican University; former member, board of the Bureau of Examiners for Long Term Care Services and Supports for the state of Ohio; current chair of the advisory board, Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging