Susan Walkama, LCSW, who transformed Wheeler Clinic into a leading statewide provider of integrated health care services, will retire on November 1, 2019, the Wheeler Board of Trustees announced today.
Walkama served as President and Chief Executive Officer for more than a dozen years, and began her career at Wheeler nearly four decades ago. Under her leadership, Wheeler evolved from a community-based provider of behavioral health services to a statewide, innovative leader in fully integrated health care and a federally qualified community health center, and grew to serve more than 30,000 individuals and families annually.
“Susan’s vision, her passion for her work, and the commitment she gave to Wheeler on behalf of everyone we serve is extraordinary,” said James Moylan of Bristol, Wheeler’s incoming Chairman of the Board of Trustees. “In every area, every day, she guided Wheeler to focus on the individuals and families who depend on us for care. She expanded services unlike any other community-based organization in Connecticut, drove remarkable administrative efficiencies, focused on clinical outcomes that improved patients’ lives, and always challenged our staff and trustees to reexamine what we could do to provide better, more accessible, and patient-centered care.”
Walkama’s influence reaches every area of the organization, particularly in services for children, which she grew, expanded, and led prior to assuming the President and CEO role, and in integrated whole-person health care. Her tenure as the President and CEO moved the organization forward in a time of dramatic national change, such as the Affordable Care Act.
Shortly after assuming the role of President and CEO, after identifying significant unmet needs for primary care in the patients she served, Walkama drove Wheeler to become a federally qualified health center (FQHC), part of a system of care nationally that serves more than 28 million Americans, especially medically underserved individuals and communities.
Wheeler now provides a full continuum of health care services across the lifespan, such as primary care and pediatrics, dental care, alternative and complementary medicine, nutrition services, and much more, integrating full behavioral health and addiction services into care, with multidisciplinary staff working side-by-side. It opened its fourth federally qualified community health center in Waterbury this August, joining other centers in Bristol, Hartford, and New Britain.
She grew the organization in significant ways, expanding from 750 employees to over 1,000, who now operate from nearly three-dozen Wheeler sites, co-locations and community partnerships, serving more than 90 percent of the state’s cities and towns.
She is a passionate advocate for health equity, social justice, and addressing the social determinants of care, tirelessly advocating in Hartford and Washington for accessible, affordable, effective health care, and serving on numerous related committees and task forces.
Under her leadership, Wheeler shaped child welfare services across the state, advanced evidence-based practices in behavioral health care nationally, operated state-of-the-art special education and health care facilities, and was recognized repeatedly for excellence in care and health outcomes.
The Board of Trustees conducted a thorough confidential search process for Walkama’s successor throughout the summer, led by Christine Skelly of West Hartford, Wheeler’s outgoing Chair.
“Susan has been an exceptional leader through unprecedented change,” said Skelly.
“She did not chase trends, but led Wheeler to the cutting edge and lit a path for everyone to follow. Her strategic vision of quality, accessible health care for all shaped every decision, in every area. Wheeler’s board, staff and, most importantly, the individuals and families we serve, are all much better for her work. Her legacy lives on in every consumer and patient whose life has been changed through Wheeler’s services, and, as a board, we faced a tremendous task identifying a visionary leader who can carry Susan’s legacy forward in new directions.”
The Board of Trustees will name a new President and Chief Executive Officer for Wheeler on October 21, 2019.
“It has been a privilege and honor to lead Wheeler,” Walkama said. “Every day, in every program, and with all 1,000 of my talented peers by my side, we transformed lives and made our communities healthier, better places to live.”
Recollections of Walkama’s service to Wheeler are available on the organization’s web site at: WheelerClinic.org/Walkama
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