WellStar Health System, the largest not-for-profit health system in the state of Georgia, announced that Candice Saunders has been promoted to the role of WellStar president & chief operating officer. CEO Reynold Jennings’ contract will end on December 31, 2015, and at that time, Saunders will assume the role of WellStar president & CEO.
As part of the succession planning process, this announcement allows Jennings and Saunders to refine cohesive strategies, goals and objectives that will further WellStar’s vision of providing world-class healthcare. Saunders currently serves as the System’s chief operating officer.
As COO, Saunders has developed a Hospital Presidents Council with WellStar’s five hospitals that has increased efficiency, enhanced patient satisfaction and improved communication within the System. She also played a key role in developing the open-heart surgery program at WellStar.
Under her leadership, along with senior and physician leaders, WellStar has grown in national prominence and recently was recognized as a 2014 FORTUNE 100 Best Companies Places to Work For® (#39, highest among Georgia-based companies), AARP Best Employers For Workers Over 50, NAFE Top Companies for Executive Women 2014 and Working Mother Magazine’s 100 Best Companies. In addition, Saunders was named to Business to Business Magazine’s Women of Excellence list, which each year recognizes only 15 women for their performance, dynamic leadership and service to the community.
“WellStar is critical and essential to the communities it serves,” said Candice Saunders, president and chief operating officer of WellStar Health System. “More than 1.4 million people rely on our services to live a healthy life. With my new responsibilities, I will provide leadership continuity to ensure that our System continues to play a major role in providing world-class healthcare to the people of metro Atlanta and northwest Georgia for years to come.”
The WellStar Board of Trustee’s Succession Planning Committee went through an extensive internal vetting process for this position. Saunders brings more than 30 years of healthcare experience to this role. She joined WellStar in May 2007 as president of WellStar Kennestone Hospital and was promoted to executive vice president & chief operating officer for WellStar Health System in March 2013. While president of Kennestone Regional Medical Center, the hospital experienced exceptional growth and strong financial performance. Saunders oversaw the hospital’s Blue Tower expansion, the Kennestone Outpatient Pavilion construction and the Level II Trauma designation.
“Candice Saunders is an ideal executive to lead a System like WellStar and its more than 13,000 team members,” said Janie Maddox, chair of WellStar Board of Trustees. “Her ability to build strong relationships with our team members, senior leadership, medical staff and community will serve her well in this new position.”
“WellStar is woven into the fabric of the community we serve,” said Reynold Jennings, CEO of WellStar. “The mark of a great organization is being able to promote from within, and we are fortunate to have someone of Candice’s multi-state stature already in our System. She will bring a breadth of knowledge and experience that will ensure a successful transition and future growth opportunities.”
Prior to joining WellStar, Saunders was vice president of Clinical Strategy and Service Lines for Inova Health System in Falls Church, Va. She also served as chief operating officer of Inova Fairfax Hospital, an 833 bed medical complex. While at Inova, she developed and led the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute. At Emory University School of Medicine, Saunders held overall administrative responsibility for the Department of Medicine Clinical Programs. She also managed the Emory Heart Center and Cardiology programs. Saunders began her healthcare career as a critical care nurse in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. She has also held key leadership roles in nursing and physician practice administration in both academic and community settings. She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of South Florida in Tampa, and master’s degrees in business administration and health services administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In addition, she is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, which is the country’s premier certification for healthcare management.