Cancer Center offers hope close to home
The folks at HealthEast understand that cancer treatments can be very tiring for patients, and that traveling to receive those treatments can add to the stress. That’s why HealthEast has opened its new Cancer Center in Woodbury.
For a long time, cancer patients on the east side of the metro area had to travel to Burnsville, Maplewood, St. Paul or New Richmond, Wis., to get the radiation and chemotherapy treatments they so needed. But now, hopefully, many patients will not have so far to go.
The Cancer Center is gradually taking over the 33,000-square-foot area that had been HealthEast’s primary care clinic. Much of the clinic services were moved to the new HealthEast Tamarack Clinic earlier this year, and more of the clinic services will be relocated to the Oak Center on the Woodwinds Health Campus.
HealthEast’s new Cancer Center opened March 9. Doctors started treating patients at the site two days later.
“This is phenomenal for the people who live in this area,” said HealthEast Service Line Administrator of Cancer Care and Infectious Disease Chris Lemme. “We had people lining up to get referred here. Some people wanted to delay their treatments so they didn’t have so far to go.”
The new Cancer Center is being opened in phases, HealthEast Radiation Medicine Services Manager Joe Klaers said. The first phase included construction of a radiation treatment room, which is set off from the main lobby area. The radiation area is encased by thick, concrete walls, and a heavy door.
Radiation is provided through a new, state-of-the-art piece of equipment called a linear accelerator. The device allows specialists to pinpoint the exact area of a patient’s body to receive radiation, and to administer the exact dosage while watching monitors in an adjoining room.
Since radiation is administered to a specific point on a body, patients have to stay still while receiving radiation treatments. Not all do. The linear accelerator is programmed to turn off if a patient moves, minimizing the chance of exposure to other parts of the body, Klaers said.
Chief Medical Physicist Philip Silgen said the linear accelerator offers many options for radiosurgery, so staff training is an important, ongoing activity.
“There is a lot here, so there is a lot of training to do,” he said. “Safety is extremely important, and we have policies and procedures in place to consider.”
Several exam rooms and family gathering spaces have been added to the Cancer Center. The exam rooms have enough room for a family member or friend to accompany the patient to his or her appointment, but most have changing rooms attached, as well. That way, a patient does not have to ask their family or friend to leave the room while he or she changes clothing.
The room sizes differ, from small and intimate, to having seating for up to eight to 10. Some patients prefer to bring extended families along to hear a progress or prognosis report, so the larger rooms can accommodate those situations, Lemme said.
“We think it’s nice to have some different spaces available, where we can honor their wishes,” he said.
There are also smaller quiet spaces, where a patient can go to reflect, pray or simply process results of a treatment report.
As part of the planning process, HealthEast asked patients what they felt were important amenities to have in a cancer center, Klaers said. One of the things that came up often was that patients did not like to wait in dreary, depressing waiting rooms.
That was taken into consideration in the planning for the Cancer Center, Klaers said. Fortunately, the location of the Cancer Center itself alleviates some of those concerns – the lobby is fronted by large picture windows that look out to a natural area. A small patio is outside, too.
“We are pretty lucky to have 12-foot windows that look out at a nature preserve. Most places don’t have that,” he said.
As the clinic services are phased out, new services for cancer treatment will be phased in at the Cancer Center. Lemme expects chemotherapy treatment services to be added to the Cancer Center’s location by December 2016.
Computed tomography (CT) Scan equipment will be installed in the Cancer Center within two years. Medical oncology and infusion will also be transferred to the Cancer Center in the next phase. Those services are offered at the Woodbury HealthEast site, but are in the hospital right now.
An area for patient education, community education, support groups and exercise classes is also planned for the future.
Lemme would have liked to see all of the Cancer Center’s components come together earlier, but knows the big project takes time to complete. Still, getting all of the services in one area will be nice, he said – especially for the patients HealthEast Cancer Center serves.
“We want to be able to meet all of the needs of the community,” he said.