$25-million gift spurs transformative research, innovative learning environment on Sarasota Memorial campus, hospital leaders say

Kolschowskys’ latest donation the catalyst that allowed SMH to break ground in June on $75-million Research and Education Institute

Dr. James Fiorica stands behind Jerry and Karen Kolschowsky. Contributed photo

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 to Southwest Florida, SMH has announced.

“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,” a news release says. The Kolschowskys, who live most of the year in Sarasota, have partnered with the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation and Sarasota Memorial Health Care System to support the vision of creating “an innovative research and education environment that appeals to physician researchers and brings leading-edge treatments and specialists to the region,” the release adds.

“The Kolschowskys’ support has already led to transformative changes that have elevated the quality of care in the Suncoast community for generations to come,” said Sarasota Memorial CEO David Verinder in the release. The Kolschowskys’ latest donation was the catalyst that allowed SMH to break ground on a $75-million Research and Education Institute in June, Verinder noted.

“Their support has been both strategic and purposeful, and very much appreciated,” Verinder continued in the release. “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,” the release says. “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 throughout the region. 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,” the release notes.

“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, in the release. “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 “influenced the Kolschowskys’ decision to support the cancer research program he leads,” the release explains. “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,” the release adds.

“Literally I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Dr. Fiorica,” Karen said in the release. “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 release adds, the Kolschowskys had the opportunity to learn about Fiorica’s research and talk with Dr. Richard Brown, medical director of SMH’s Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute, and other health system leaders about developing programs. “As Sarasota Memorial’s research team and reputation grew,” the release points out, “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.”

“Sarasota Memorial’s research and graduate medical education programs have tripled in size in recent years,” the release continues, “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 COVID-19 pandemic, the release further notes, the Kolschowskys’ 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 treatments became more widely available,” the release adds.