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PHMC's Melissa Fox Leads Through Determination and a Passion for Mission


“Everything that I work on is personal to me” 

“Success is always moving” 

The Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) is a Philadelphia-based, complex, nonprofit organization that started in 1972. Its mission is to create and sustain healthier communities in the Delaware Valley region. Their work includes direct services, outreach, health promotion, education, technical assistance, research, and advocacy. The Senior Managing Director for Health Services at PHMC, Melissa Fox, was generous enough to meet with me and provide me with some perspective and insight on what it takes to be a leader in the nonprofit world. With more than 350 programs and 11 subsidiaries, PHMC is not a standard public healthcare organization and Melissa Fox seems to fit right in. Her energy was infectious and she did not shy away from some hard questions. 

Melissa Fox oversees all Specialized Health Services as well as the Behavioral Health Services at PHMC. She has worked for both private and nonprofit ventures and she was already involved in the healthcare sector when she joined PHMC a little over 5 years ago. She considers herself mission-oriented and she takes her job very personally. As a leader, she finds communication to be key, especially clarity in goals and expectations. Her style is warm and personable and she enjoys collaboration. She is supportive of her staff and treats them as individuals, understanding some need more guidance while others value more independence. She welcomes any opportunity to give genuine positive feedback but also coaches her staff as needed. Melissa uses these avenues as a form of informal evaluation and an important mechanism to improve as a team. Similarly, she believes a good leader must be able to listen and set ego aside to receive feedback and grow over time. 

Melissa works very closely with the board of directors and she stressed that the PHMC board was different than many boards she has worked with. The 16-member board is extremely proactive and involved. According to Melissa, they are genuinely interested in not only defining the goals but also giving input about strategies and specific paths. She meets with them at least once a month to engage in discussion on how to move forward to fulfill the mission. As we talked about the board I mentioned the fact that the board is only 1/3 composed of women, to which she unequivocally stated that representation at this point should not be a discussion, and that the fight to elevate women to high positions doesn't end until we get true and equal representation in gender as well as in race and cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, Melissa does appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit of the board and the organization, and she believes it is a strategy that has made PHMC relevant through its 40-plus years of work. 

“Diversity and representation should not be a discussion” 

As a leader, Melissa understands the complexity of the community she works for, and she believes identifying the gaps of care by listening to the community and partners is essential. She also believes financial sustainability for each program is a necessary factor to guarantee the program will stand even if a grant or other financial support ends. Melissa participated in PHMC’s latest strategic plan and she enjoyed the process very much. As a 3-year goal for the Integrated Health Care Services, the emphasis is on outpatient support. Keeping people in the communities is not only more cost-effective but valuable and preferred for most patients. Another focus for Melissa and her team is to organically manage Specialized Health Services and the Behavioral Health Services in an interconnected way, avoiding organizational silos that lower the programs effectiveness and their holistic approach. Towards the end of the interview, Melissa Fox admitted that for her success is always moving and changing. In my opinion, it seems that for the nonprofit world, the work entails knowing that the challenges are ever-changing but the passion and determination for the mission are equally unwavering. 

About the author
Xelba was born in Venezuela but grew up in Chile before moving to USA. She has a BS in Biology and is now at UPenn pursuing a Master in Environmental Studies with a concentration in political ecology and sustainable development. She is particularly interested in the intersection between nature and society with a special focus on environmental justice issues.