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$25M Gift Spurs Transformative Research, Innovative Learning Environment at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System

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A $25 million gift from the Gerald A. and Karen A. Kolschowsky Foundation is the latest in a series of family donations spurring transformative research and drawing top-tier physicians to Sarasota Memorial Health Care System (SMH) and the southwest Florida region.

Jerry and Karen Kolschowsky and their family foundation have been quietly helping the community-owned health system expand its education and research programs for nearly 20 years. The Kolschowskys, who live most of the year in Sarasota, Fla., have partnered with Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation to support the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System’s vision to create an innovative research and education environment that appeals to physician researchers and brings leading-edge treatments and specialists to the region.

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The Kolschowskys’ support has already led to transformative changes that have elevated the quality of care in this community for generations to come, said Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder. In today’s announcement, Verinder noted the Kolschowsky’s latest $25 million donation was the catalyst that allowed SMH to break ground on a new, $75 million Research and Education Institute this past June.

“Their support has been both strategic and purposeful, and very much appreciated,” Verinder said. “Over the years, their donations have helped SMH expand its education and research team and participate in groundbreaking studies that bring new technologies, new specialists and the latest treatment options to our community.”

By lending their name to the building, the Kolschowskys hope to inspire other philanthropists to fund community hospital research initiatives and clinical advances. When it opens in 2025, the Kolschowsky Research and Education Institute will be a state-of-the-art training and research center that expands research and training opportunities for physicians and clinicians caring for patients on the Suncoast. In addition to supporting clinical trials and research studies, the Institute will offer a range of education programs and state-of-the-art simulation center that expands hands-on training opportunities for physicians, nurses and students mastering new treatments and technologies.

“You don’t always understand how important clinical research and advanced therapies are until they save your life, or the life of someone you love,” said Tim Kolschowsky, president of the Gerald A. and Karen A. Kolschowsky Foundation. “We hope this gift will highlight the importance of medical advances and inspire others to support clinical research here or in their local communities.”

Advanced cancer care provided by Sarasota Memorial Chief Medical Officer James Fiorica, MD influenced the Kolschowskys’ decision to support the cancer research program he leads. Karen Kolschowsky still gets teary-eyed when she talks about the life-saving care and surgical advances Dr. Fiorica and the cancer team used to treat her cancer 15 years ago.

“Literally I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dr. Fiorica,” Karen said, closing her eyes for a moment as memories flooded back. “I went to see him on a Tuesday … the test results came back on Wednesday, and on Thursday he put me in the hospital and operated on me, and basically saved my life.”

As her treatment continued, the Kolschowskys had the opportunity to learn about Dr. Fiorica’s research, and talk to Richard Brown, MD, medical director of SMH’s Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute and other health system leaders about developing programs. While their initial donations supported SMH’s cancer research initiatives, the Kolschowskys expanded their focus to include research for other medical specialties and clinical education.

As Sarasota Memorial’s research team and reputation grew, the health system began attracting more nationally recognized physicians –– leaders in cancer, cardiac, gastroenterology and other specialties who are bringing the latest technologies and treatments to the community.

“It’s been my honor to work with the Kolschowsky family for so many years,” said Dr. Fiorica. “Their generosity and steadfast support have helped us build a high-quality, sustainable research program that is providing our patients access to the latest studies and best treatments possible.”

Sarasota Memorial’s research and graduate medical education programs have tripled in size in recent years, with more than 50 active studies under way and thousands of physicians competing for residency and fellowship opportunities at SMH each year. To date, nearly half of the resident physicians who completed training at Sarasota Memorial have stayed and established practices here, and nearly 70% have remained in Florida.

During the pandemic, the Kolschowsky’s funding provided critical resources that ensured Sarasota Memorial was equipped and ready to participate in pivotal clinical trials and studies. SMH’s research team and frontline physicians were among select testing sites that were able to give local patients access to potentially life-saving monoclonal antibodies and emerging treatments for COVID-19, before the treatments became more widely available.

“The whole community benefits from the transformation taking place in our health system,” Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation President Stacey Corley said. “It’s very rewarding to all of us to see the new Education and Research Institute taking shape and to be able to offer the latest treatments, technologies and clinical trials for our patients.”

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