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John Saunders, MD Gives Because of Seeing Patient-First in Action

March 22, 2021
As a skilled surgeon and proficient physician leader at GBMC for four decades, John R. Saunders Jr., MD is no stranger to the maturation GBMC has undergone throughout the years. In fact, he has been intimately involved in much of it.

From the creation of the Milton J. Dance Jr. Head & Neck Center to the hiring of GBMC’s current President and CEO, John B. Chessare, MD, MPH, Dr. Saunders has helped the organization navigate its independence, the education of its residents, the practicum of its philosophy, and honed its focus on patient safety and quality. When he was approached to lead the fundraising campaign for The Promise Project, he recalled a similar moment when he was asked to be the interim CEO in 2010. Both requests, within a decade of each other, were opportunities to take on interesting and challenging roles as well as further grow an organization he had grown to love.

“When I was a young surgeon brought in by Myrt Gaines, who was then Chief of Staff, he emphasized to us young physicians that this was our hospital, this was where we worked and it was a place we should be happy to support,” Dr. Saunders said. “Back in the mid-90s, we had more than 300 physicians raise more than $3 million for GBMC, and that was really Myrt’s doing. In following in Myrt’s enthusiasm and given the various positions I’ve held at GBMC, I felt motivated to step forward and lead The Promise Project.

Dr. Saunders sees The Promise Project as an extension of or the next step in a string of growth opportunities GBMC has capitalized on over the years to align the physical location with the deep-set philosophy of the organization. Building on the founding hospitals’ patient-first mentality, Dr. Saunders believes “what’s continued and what changed GBMC was really focusing and defining our philosophy of care under John Chessare’s leadership. There’s no question that without his leadership that kind of general patient-first feeling and the culture at GBMC would not be as defined.”

“GBMC has modernized itself over the years to show patients they are part of a system of care here,” Dr. Saunders said. “Modernizing our in-patient care with The Promise Project really allows us to provide the care we want for our community members. Medicine has become much more sophisticated and the demands for patient care really require up-to-date facilities because you can’t provide safe, efficient and effective care in outdated facilities. It just doesn’t work.”

As GBMC has worked to create an ideal space for health, healing and hope for the community, the community itself has built a reciprocal relationship with the organization through its philanthropic support. Dr. Saunders harkens back to the hospital’s founding, when individuals went door to door to engage the community and garner support for the community hospital.

“I always bristle at calling GBMC a community hospital. It’s really much more than a community hospital. It’s a fantastic health delivery system that happens to be in the community, serving the community,” Dr. Saunders said. “It’s always been a community effort. Donors like the idea that giving to GBMC stays at GBMC, to bring programs and facilities that really help the community. That’s what engages people in giving to The Promise Project, just like our community did in the early 60s when they went door to door to let the community know we were bringing a great medical care facility to their neighborhood.”

His own reason for giving is deeply personal. Aside from Dr. Gaines’ early encouragement of physician giving, Dr. Saunders spent a lifetime becoming closer to GBMC for allowing him to care for patients, educate residents and engage in growth at the leadership level. But more than all of that, Dr. Saunders felt the GBMC mission come alive most fervently in the hearts of one couple.

“Bill and Jarnetta Kroh were a special couple,” Dr. Saunders said. “They got the GBMC connection, the GBMC family. They were always there, present for the important milestones for GBMC. Over the years, I felt it was important, when I could, to be a member of the Kroh Society because of my respect for Bill and Jarnetta.”

The GBMC Foundation’s Kroh Society honors and recognizes donors who give $10,000 or more annually to the organization. There are many different ways to get there, and for The Promise Project, Dr. Saunders chose to give a gift through an IRA Charitable Rollover (CIRA).

A CIRA allows donors, aged 70 and a half and above, to contribute up to $100,000 a year from their Traditional IRAs without incurring any taxes on the distribution. The account holder can contribute their annual required minimum distribution to charity without increasing their taxable income for the year or paying taxes on the required minimum distribution.

The most compelling piece of the fundraising campaign for Dr. Saunders thus far has been hearing why others give to GBMC. The why behind their philanthropy inspires him. Because despite the many important and influential ways Dr. Saunders has impacted GBMC through his leadership and clinical expertise, it is the philosophy, culture, commitment to improvement, and dedication to excellent patient care that keeps him invested. The commitment to community and the community’s commitment to GBMC.
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