Center Offers Unified Cancer Attack

January 17, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — In developing the $45 million Lacks Cancer Center, Saint Mary's Health Care is reaching for two complementing goals: to elevate the level of cancer treatment the health system offers and do it in a better setting.

The Lacks Cancer Center consolidates all of Saint Mary's Health Care's cancer treatments into a single location that provides an integrated-care model blending clinical expertise, modern medical technology and the health system's "body, mind, spirit" approach providing emotional support to patients and their families.

As a new medical center-of-excellence in Grand Rapids, the Lacks Cancer Center has already enabled Saint Mary's Heath Care to attract several new specialists and sub-specialists in cancer treatment in the last few years and is expected to draw many more in the future.

"It's an embodiment of the best of Saint Mary's," said Deb Stiemann, Saint Mary's Health Care's vice president of strategic planning. "It both elevates the level of clinical care and is a way to bring in other clinical expertise."

Saint Mary's Health Care completed construction on the Lacks Cancer Center in early December and began showing off the facility during a series of open houses. The health system begins transferring patients this month.

The Lacks Cancer Center stems from a strategic plan formulated five years ago that identified cancer treatment as a key clinical area for Saint Mary's, which in September 2004 took on a new name and launched a year-long media campaign — using the theme "expect something more" — to promote its clinical expertise and reputation for compassionate care.

"We do feel we have our own brand of care model that patients will find very attractive," CEO Phil McCorkle said in September.

And that care model is reflected in the Lacks Cancer Center, where medical expertise and medical technology in cancer treatment are the cornerstones, including a new $3.5 million TomoTherapy CT scanner/radiation treatment unit that enables doctors to better pinpoint and precisely treat tumors.

The TomoTherapy unit is one of only 28 in use in the world. Saint Mary's Health Care was chosen as one of 20 centers of excellence where the manufacturer of the unit will measure patient outcomes and provide on-site support.

In highlighting the Lacks Cancer Center's technology, Saint Mary's Health Care administrators equally tout the care model they have designed to provide as comfortable an atmosphere as possible to ease the fears and anxieties of patients and their families who are experiencing the emotional trauma that comes with the diagnosis of cancer.

Those support amenities are crucial because families are instrumental in helping a patient cope with the illness and its treatment, Lacks Cancer Center Director Kenda Klotz said.

"Cancer has this big ripple effect, and the closer the family unit, the bigger the waves," Klotz said. "Our whole goal of this facility is to minimize the institutional feel and make it a warm space and a comfortable place."

The Lacks Cancer Center's interior design consists of warm colors and wood trim that largely minimizes the cold, clinical environment often associated with medical settings. The top floor sports a conservatory, an outdoor garden and a walking path for patients and their friends and family to use.

Many of the amenities designed into the building — spacious, private inpatient rooms with sleeper chairs for family members who wish to spend the night, for instance — are designed to aid a patient's emotional well-being, which in turn can affect how they respond to medical treatment, Klotz said.

Funded completely through philanthropy, including a $10 million gift from the family of the late Richard J. Lacks Sr., the Lacks Cancer Center will initially treat 15,000 outpatients annually and about 1,500 people on an inpatient basis.  

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