Rita M. Gardner, M.P.H., LABA, BCBA

President and CEO

Rita M. Gardner is the President and CEO of Melmark, and leads operations and management of Melmark service divisions in New England, Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. Prior to her appointment as President and CEO in 2015, Ms. Gardner served as Executive Director of Melmark New England, based in Andover, Massachusetts, which she co-founded in 1998. Ms. Gardner and Melmark New England were honored to be named on The Commonwealth Institute’s (TCI’s) list of the Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts from 2018 to number 33 in 2021.


She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA) and has devoted more than 40 years of her professional career to the field of community-based services for children and adults with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), acquired brain injuries, severe challenging behaviors, and medical fragility.


Ms. Gardner is an accomplished legislative advocate, and her public policy work has positively impacted services for individuals diagnosed with autism throughout the United States. Ms. Gardner also serves on advisory committees with the Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) and Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM). She is a founding Board member of the National Council of Autism Providers (CASP) and is currently serving as vice chair. Ms. Gardner also serves on the Advisory Board of the Virginia Institute of Autism. She was on the Governor’s Autism Commission in Massachusetts and is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private School (MAAPS). Ms. Gardner also serves on the Pennsylvania Advocacy and Resources for Autism and Intellectual Disability Board of Directors.


Ms. Gardner has written book chapters and peer-reviewed articles for professional journals and made a number of presentations on topics including leadership, women in behavior analysis, program expansion, organizational behavior management and more recently managing programs during the COVID-19 pandemic and leading COVID-19 vaccine education program town halls at local, regional and national levels.


Ms. Gardner earned her Master of Public Health degree from Boston University’s School of Public Health in the School of Medicine, majoring in Behavioral Sciences and Health Services Administration.