Muskegon Cancer Unit Consolidates Its Services

May 18, 2008
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MUSKEGON — A new cancer treatment center in Muskegon puts chemotherapy and radiation treatment under a single roof.

The light, airy $13 million Johnson Family Center for Cancer Care is in front of the Mercy Campus, wrapping around a building used for orthopedic services. Next year, the orthopedic practice will move to another building on the campus, and the space will be renovated and used for the cancer center as well, bringing the total square footage to 32,667.

Cancer and Hematology Centers and MHP are partners in the new center, which was constructed by The Christman Co. of Lansing.

Medical oncology services through Cancer and Hematology Centers launched in April, and radiation therapy started earlier this month. The two linear accelerators at the Hackley Cancer Center ceased operations last week and will be retired, said Kelly Kurburski, MHP director of public relations and marketing.

The opening of the Johnson Center is the culmination of a major change in cancer care in Muskegon, which traditionally had been focused at Hackley Hospital. In 2006, Hackley opposed Mercy General Health Partners’ application for a certificate of need for a linear accelerator. However, the Michigan Department of Community Health’s CON Commission approved the application and work on the Johnson Center moved forward.

The two hospitals merged in April. Kurburski said some former Hackley cancer services employees are retiring, others have transferred to the Johnson Center and five are being laid off.

Currently the Johnson Center has a single Varian Trilogy linear accelerator, but was designed to hold two radiation machines and a second is expected to be added within a year, said operations manager Ralph Fisher. It also has a CT scanner.

“I’ve had 65 consults in three weeks, so I think it’s going to be busy,” said Dr. Nina Johnson, medical director and radiation oncology specialist. “Medical oncology and radiation oncology are so closely tied. Ninety percent of our patients also see the medical oncologist.”

Combining the two services in one place is a major bonus for patients, as is the computer-based record system that gives access to imaging and reports from any computer station in the building, she said. A new software package for the linear accelerator will greatly reduce the length of treatment and the amount of radiation patients receive, she added.

Johnson said she arrived in Muskegon a year ago to work on plans for the building and equipment. She had been medical director at a hospital-based program in South Bend’s Memorial Hospital. She said four staff members from South Bend made the move with her.

In July, the center will host its first medical physicist residency program, training for specialists with doctoral degrees in creating radiation treatment programs, Johnson said. She also said the University of Michigan, where she completed her residency program and served as assistant professor and staff physician, may have some interest in establishing an affiliation, but the talks are preliminary and no decisions have been made.

Some $3.6 million has been raised to build the center, Kurburski said. Major donations came from the Paul C. Johnson Foundation and Chuck and Patricia Johnson, who are Dr. Johnson’s husband’s parents. Paul Johnson’s father founded Sealed Power Corp.

Dr. Mani Kurien joins Cancer and Hematology Centers this summer to oversee its Johnson Center operations.

The center features a warm décor and utilizes a maze system to contain the concentrated X-rays emitted during radiation therapy, rather than heavy metal doors. The infusion area features rows of soft chairs, with extra seating for patient companions, mini-refrigerators and televisions. Several private areas are available as well. The area has large windows and overlooks a garden.

Fisher said a patient library will feature Internet access for patients. A pharmacy will be opening at the site as well, he said.

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