The Class of 2020 profiles the women and men who joined the AHA board this year.

AHA Board Member Candice L. Saunders, president and CEO of Atlanta, GA-based WellStar Health System, has always had a passion to help others. It was this sense of purpose that prompted her decades ago to follow her calling and become a registered nurse. Today, that same ambition continues to propel Saunders.

“We have a responsibility to our community to be here when they need us,” Saunders said. “That’s what gets me up in the morning.”

It’s also what helped her navigate a particularly formidable transition two years ago when WellStar acquired five hospitals from Tenet Healthcare, while at the same time merging with the not-for-profit West Georgia Health in LaGrange, GA – doubling WellStar’s size. This also included the changeover of a sizeable medical group that included post-acute and ambulatory facilities. And, independent of these internal shifts, the field’s external disruptions did not slow down. “It was the biggest change I’ve had to manage in my career,” Saunders said.

Saunders credits the AHA with providing the networking and collaboration tools to help her lead this massive transition and navigate other challenges over the years.

“The AHA plays a key role in fostering collaborative dialogue, which allows colleagues to share experiences and ideas as well as discuss opportunities,” Saunders said. “In addition, the AHA supports members by leading advocacy efforts and shaping health care policy.” 

Saunders identified three key areas in which she feels the AHA has been instrumental in leading the charge:

  • Physician Engagement. “At WellStar our medical group and clinically integrated network are vital to our strategy and ensuring a seamless continuum of services for our patients and consumers,” Saunders said. “The work that the AHA has established around physician leadership has supported our efforts, from both a governance and management perspective, to develop a more accountable and fully integrated approach to delivering patient care.”
  • Leadership on Health Equity. “The AHA has forged a path for members around health equity and addressing social determinants of health, and provides valuable resources that support CEOs in not only educating physicians and team members, but also in building perspective with board members and community leaders,” she said.
  • Shaping the Dialogue around Workplace/Community Violence. “Workplace violence is top of mind for me right now,” Saunders said. “This is a topic we all continue to be touched by not only in our local communities but across our country. The AHA continues to bring awareness around this topic by facilitating dialogue and providing resources to support the critical role members play in addressing and preventing violence in our communities.”

Now that Saunders is a member of the AHA board, she is finding another dimension of value. 

“I feel like I’m front and center as ideas and new laws are coming along the pipeline,” she said. “I have the chance to help shape what the organization is doing and really serve as a representative of the membership – my fellow colleagues and the communities we serve.”