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New Woodwinds cancer facility plans unveiled

Dr. Puneet Cheema speaks at an open house for the new HealthEast cancer clinic that will offer radiation treatment in Woodbury. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)1 / 2
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HealthEast officials held a virtual groundbreaking event last week for the organization’s new $15 million cancer care clinic set to open by 2015 at Woodwinds Health Campus.

HealthEast Care System, Woodwinds’ parent company, was a direct beneficiary of a bill signed into law in 2012 to lift a moratorium on the expansion of radiation treatment centers in the Twin Cities.

The legislation makes it possible to move radiation equipment from St. John’s Hospital in Maplewood to the Woodwinds campus, while still offering radiation services in three locations.

The new law specifically grants Woodwinds a reprieve under the moratorium, which allows the hospital to add new technology and consolidate all of its cancer treatments into one center inside the hospital.

Chris Lemme, service line administrator for cancer care at HealthEast, said cancer patients typically receive 30 treatments, oftentimes daily doses that require them to drive to downtown St. Paul or Maplewood – something they don’t want to do when they’re not feeling well.

“This provides more close access in the community,” he said at the Wednesday, Jan. 15 event.

The new clinic’s construction will be the organization’s biggest jigsaw puzzle, part of a $21.8 million multi-faceted change.

Once the Woodbury Children’s Hospitals clinic moves to a new building off of Interstate 494 and Tamarack Road this fall, Woodwinds will move its clinic services – currently located at the Birch Center on the lower level of the hospital – to the old Children’s location in the Oak Center.

Once clinic services vacate the Birch Center, Woodwinds will consolidate all of its chemotherapy and infusion services to join new radiation machines in what will be the new HealthEast cancer clinic.

“This brings it all together under one roof,” Lemme said.

HealthEast is also planning to build a new family medicine clinic on the east side of Woodbury with access off of Interstate 94 and Woodbury Drive. That, along with a new standalone building that Children’s Hospital will build, will expand medical services outside of the medical district in Woodbury.

Dr. Puneet Cheema is a Woodbury resident who said the new services will fill oncology needs for many of his patients.

“This is a modern city (and) it should have all the facilities,” he said.

Dr. Elizabeth Cameron, director for radiation oncology, said the new clinic will provide radiation treatment with new technology that localizes and targets cancerous tissue as much as possible without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

“As we evolve into radiation, the whole idea is to treat the tumor and not treat the normal tissue,” she said.

Woodbury resident Dan White served on an advisory committee involved in the planning process for the new cancer clinic. He was able to share a patient’s perspective.

White was admitted to Woodwinds in 2011 with severe stomach pains. He later underwent surgery to remove a tumor and has since been receiving chemotherapy treatment at the hospital.

Though he didn’t need radiation, he said access to treatment has been nothing like what his mother experienced while treating her own colon cancer a few decades ago.

“For me it was a pretty amazing journey,” he said. “I’m glad I came here because they’ve made it so easy.

“You don’t need to go far.”

HealthEast Cancer Care, which includes St. John’s, Woodwinds and St. Joseph’s, cared for nearly 4,500 patients with cancer and benign blood disorders in 2013, according to figures provided by HealthEast.

The demand for radiation oncology is expected to grow by 13 percent over the next five years.

“It’s a growing community; as you age you’re more likely to develop cancer,” Lemme said. “So we continue to grow out of our space here.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.