Room to Grow
Surging Need Prompts Expansion of Sr. Caritas Cancer CenterWhen the Sr. Caritas Cancer Center opened its doors in 2003, the 16,000-square-foot facility effectively doubled the cancer-treatment capacity of Mercy Medical Center, the heart of the Sisters of Providence Health System (SPHS), and specialized in the growing field of radiation oncology.
There was probably little thought then that a major expansion, one that would more than double the current footprint, would be needed less than a decade later. But in the ever-changing realm of cancer treatment, much can happen in just a few years.
In this case, advancements in the field of medical onology have precipitated an explosion in need for those type of services. At the same time, Mercy has joined forces with medical oncologist Dr. Philip Glynn, in a venture that has brought both great opportunity and a stern challenge: a pressing need for more space.
The latter is being addressed with a $15 million, 20,000-square-foot expansion that will increase the number of chemotherapy treatment bays from the current 10 to 32, while also providing the room, and flexibility, to handle projected needs for years to come, said Dr. Scott Wolf, who serves as Mercy Medical Center’s senior vice president of Medical Affairs, chief medical officer, and chief operating officer.
As for the former, Wolf said Glynn’s decision to merge his growing practice with Mercy Medical Center’s medical oncology services provides the institution with an opportunity to achieve much greater balance in its efforts to provide the two major cancer-treatment modalities — radiation oncology and chemotherapy — and also take cancer-treatment services to a much higher level.
“Our goal is to establish ourselves as a center of excellence in comprehensive oncology care,” Wolf told BusinessWest. “Building on the already-existing expertise in our radiation oncology, and then adding modalities and surgical oncology and subspecialty medical oncology, we will elevate ourselves as a center of excellence.
“This has been Dr. Glynn’s vision, beyond just his practice, for several years,” Wolf continued. “He first came to me about two years ago about creating a foundation of a more comprehensive oncology service line.”
Soon after that conversation, Glynn merged his private practice, Murray Glynn P.C., with Mercy Medical Center in June 2012.
“Our group of medical oncologists came together because we felt that collectively we could provide a more effective service to our patients and to this community,” said Glynn, who is now the director of Medical Oncology through Mercy Oncology Services.
This development created an immediate need for more facilities at Mercy, which was met by establishing 10 temporary infusion bays at the nearby Weldon Center for Rehabilitation.
While this was taking place, MorrisSwitzer – Environments for Health, a Boston-based architecture firm that focuses exclusively on the healthcare sector, began designing an expansion of the Caritas Center.
Groundbreaking is slated for next spring, and the facility is expected to open in late 2015, said Wolf. Funding for the expansion will be derived through a variety of means, including a working capital loan from Trinity Health (the second-largest Catholic health system in the country), a forthcoming capital campaign, and future operating revenue from the new center.
While the architectural plans and the new expansion layout are complete, the bid requests for construction management will go out soon.
For this issue, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the plans to expand the Sr. Caritas Center, and also at what this development means for Mercy and SPHS as the system works to expand its presence in cancer treatment.
Supply and Demand
As he talked about the changes and developments that put the Caritas Center expansion plans on the drawing board, Mark Fulco, senior vice president of Strategy and Marketing for SPHS, started with some rather sobering statistics regarding cancer in this country.
He said that analysis of data provided by the state Department of Health, national statistics, and interviews with consumers and community leaders reveals that the demand for medical oncology services is expected to increase by 11% over the next 10 years.
The aging of the nation’s population is a big factor in these estimates, but there are other factors that point to heightened demand both nationally and especially in this region, he went on, citing a smoking rate of 23.8% in Greater Springfield, nearly double the national average of 14.7%.
While these numbers indicate that Mercy was likely to eventually need more space and facilities at the Caritas Center, the recent merger with Glynn’s practice certainly accelerated that process, Fulco noted.
Wolf concurred, noting that this consolidation more than doubled the number of medical oncology treatments at Mercy, from roughly 3,000 per year to more than 7,000. And the expansion is designed to accommodate 30,000 annually.
“Phil is an incredibly gifted physician, and due to his presence in this community, he has an extremely loyal following,” said Wolf. “Oncologists as a whole are a special group of physicians, just because of the nature of their business, but Phil takes it to another level.”
The planed expansion will feature two floors of medical oncology services adjacent to the current single-story facility on the eastern side of the Mercy Medical Center campus that houses radiation oncology.
But there is much more to the expansion than additional square footage and infusion bays, said Fulco.
“What we’re putting together to meet greater demand for services is a truly comprehensive cancer center with cancer diagnosis, treatment, and other modalities, like support and our spiritual-care team, all in one place,” said Fulco. “The physicians will be in close proximity to each other so that it will further enhance collaboration efforts, with cancer being treated through a team approach.”
Elaborating, he said the new, enlarged Caritas Center will bring together what he called a talented team of clinicians.
Glynn is now responsible for all aspects of the medical oncology program and its activities, such as cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, state-of-the-art treatment, counseling, and rehabilitation.
Glynn and his seven-member oncology team will be joined by Dr. Neal Chuang, the new chief of thoracic surgery, who is trained on the da Vinci S Surgical System, the latest in minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery; Dr. Mark Sherman, also a thoracic surgeon and a new surgical oncologist; and Dr. Julia Donovan, a specialist in female reproductive cancers. Within the existing radiation department are Dr. Catherine Carton, the full-time director of radiation oncology; and radiation oncologist Dr. Mary Ann Lowen.
“Dr. Glynn has a very clear and progressive vision for where cancer care and interventions are going,” said Fulco, adding that Glynn’s keen interest in pursuing new interventions that aren’t currently available at Mercy, or anywhere else, for that matter, will see those new modalities being developed and eventually in use at the center.
For example, 10 years ago, when the current center opened, two linear accelerators (used for external beam radiation treatments) and intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) were hyped in the press as advanced technology; today, the team is proud of the two Elekta Infinity intensity-guided radiation-therapy machines, which are advanced linear accelerators (see sidebar, page 17), and are the only two of their kind in Western Mass.
Casting the net even wider, the business plan written 18 months ago by Daniel Moen, president and CEO of SPHS, with Wolf, Glynn and others, demands that the team be consistently aggressive in seeking new technology, new treatment modalities, and new relationships.
To that end, Wolf said the team is in the early stages of identifying a tertiary partner, one that would offer access to clinical trials, second-opinion expertise, genetic profiling, and many other services that will be demanded of a truly comprehensive cancer-care facility.
Fulco said this represents the type of forward thinking that is a very important motivation for Glynn, who also assists with the development and implementation of new program initiatives, such as cancer survivorship, navigation, community outreach, and clinical research/clinical trial participation.
Fulco told BusinessWest that, when plans were first put on the drawing board for what would become the Sr. Caritas Cancer Center, the overarching philosophy was to create a facility that would drive home the point that area residents did not have to drive to Hartford, Boston, New York, or anywhere else to receive quality cancer treatment.
Over the past decade, the facility has gone a long way toward proving that point, and the planned expansion of the center will only make it easier to make that argument.
“Except for the esoteric type of cancer that requires specialists who are just as rare and requires experimental therapies, the modalities that we have available to treat patients here are equivalent to the very best in the world,” said Fulco. “You don’t need to go to Boston or New York to get a leading-edge treatment.”
Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]