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 2020.


She is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA) and has devoted over 35 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, neurological disorders and severe challenging behaviors.


Prior to her work at Boston Children’s Hospital, Ms. Gardner directed the service center of Behavioral Health and Rehabilitative Services for The May Institute in Massachusetts.


Ms. Gardner is an accomplished legislative advocate, and her work has positively impacted services for individuals diagnosed with autism throughout the United States. One of her most notable accomplishments as an advocate is her involvement in the establishment of the Autism Medicaid Waiver through the Division of Autism. Ms. Gardner also serves on advisory committees with the Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) and Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts (AFAM). She is an Advisory Board member to Autism Speaks and 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 is an appointed member of the Governor’s Autism Commission in Massachusetts and is President of the Board of Directors for the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private School (MAAPS).


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.