'A hand-up, not a hand-out'

Dennis Walto of Warwick is the new CEO for Children's Health Fund


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  • photo provided by the Children’s Health Fund Dennis Walto of Warwick, pictured here third from the right with the Children’s Health Fund’s Chicago program staff, was recently appointed the chief executive officer of the organization that provides medical services to children and their families, usually in areas where such services are lacking.



By Christine Urio

— Bringing more than 25 years of senior management experience with not-for-profit organizations worldwide, philanthropic leader Dennis Walto was recently appointed by the Board of Directors of Children’s Health Fund as chief executive officer.

Residing in Warwick, Walto is the first new CEO to be appointed in 30 years.

“It's an honor to take over leadership of this amazing organization,” he said. “This appointment is especially humbling as I am the first CEO in the organization's history: the co-founders Irwin and Karen Redlener had collectively run Children's Health Fund for the past three decades as president and executive director, respectively.”

Politics and community organizingWalto got involved in healthcare and disaster relief by starting his career in political organizing for the Gary Hart presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1987-1988.

“When things didn't work out with Senator Hart, I turned toward poverty reduction and social issues as a focus of my work and life,” he said. “In 1990 I was introduced to Dr. Irwin Redlener, then president of Children's Health Fund. He liked my background in community organizing and thought that it would be helpful in running community-based health programs.”

Walto then shifted his focus from domestic to international health concerns and joined the International Medical Corps in 1992 as a front line relief worker in Somalia.

“For the next 23 years I worked in international relief and development, graduating from operations to executive management along the way,” he said. “I worked with organizations like CARE, Save the Children and Population Services International. I learned a great deal from many mentors and great leaders.”

The Children’s Health Fund provides health services to children who otherwise may not have access to seeing a doctor, dentist, or mental health counselor regardless of their ability to pay.

Millions of children without healthcare“Aid programs like ours are essential to providing a hand-up, not a hand-out, to children and families in need,” said Walto. “It’s important to consider that more than three million children in this country remain without health insurance, and more than 20 million kids don’t receive adequate care even when they are insured—as long as this gap in care exists, our work will be essential.”

Walto was brought on to move forward with a transition plan that looked at how to best position Children's Health Fund for continuing their strong mission in late 2015.

“I look forward to meeting the significant challenges we face with the same passion, dedication, and hard work that I know have guided this organization since its founding,” he said.

As CEO, Walto is responsible for providing strategic leadership for Children’s Health Fund by working with the Board of Directors and other senior management to establish long-range goals, strategies, plans, and policies.

“On a day-to-day basis, I oversee the executive team, which entails program development and quality assurance of our national network medical programs, as well as marketing, fund raising and advocacy efforts,” he said.

More services in more places to more childrenAs CEO, Walto hopes to build on the organizations accomplishments to date, which includes more than four million doctor visits delivered, and hundreds of thousands of children and families reached with quality medical services, usually in areas where these services are severely lacking.

“It's my hope to both sustain and expand on this positive core,” he said. “Simply put, my goal is to deliver more services, in more places, to more children who need our support.”

Over the past 30 years, Children’s Health Fund has developed a network of health programs, from the urban settings of Newark and Dallas to the rural mountains of West Virginia and the Mississippi River delta. The medical directors and administrators who run these programs are experts in how to deliver high quality health services to America's most vulnerable children.

“It is my plan to provide these people with a greater platform to share what they have learned so that our impact can grow beyond our clinics themselves to encompass the knowledge we have learned as a nationwide nonprofit,” said Walto. “The ideas generated from our experiences can and should be shared with other providers who are facing equally challenging populations.”

Collective leadershipIn order to accomplish this, Walto ensures continued success through a collective leadership model that values each employee and creates space for that person to lead.

“This is a style I’ve practiced throughout my career: creating a culture of inclusion is crucial in making sure our staff is engaged and we are all motivated to be the best we can be,” he said.

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