St. Anthony’s Summit Medical Center set to expand cancer treatment
January 31, 2017
Summit County residents have long had limited chemotherapy infusion treatment options this side of Vail Pass or the Eisenhower Tunnel, despite having the lowest cancer mortality rates in the nation. That forces many local patients to choose between long commutes or relocation at a time when they're battling a very serious disease.
But that's about to change, thanks to the generosity of local businesses, churches and residents who together raised $750,000 to help fund the construction of a new specialty care and infusion treatment center at the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco.
With matching funds from the Summit Medical Center Health Foundation and a final fundraising surge in December, hospital officials were able to break ground in early January.
The 5,200-square-foot facility will be on the third floor of the medical office building and feature eight infusion chairs, 10 specialty care rooms and two procedure rooms — not to mention impressive views of Buffalo Mountain and Lake Dillon. Its opening is slated for May 1.
Currently, St. Anthony is limited to two infusion chairs in the main hospital wing, and those have to be moved around to small exam rooms depending on the number of patients the hospital is seeing. Beyond chemotherapy, the chairs are also used for things like antibiotic treatment and drawing blood.
"Most people go to Denver or over the pass to Edwards," said Natasha Bickmore, a registered nurse and clinical care coordinator at St. Anthony who does infusion treatments. "What'll be nice about the new facility is all of the space. We're hoping to keep building up and providing more convenient treatment for people."
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Since some chemotherapy treatments require infusions seven days a week, the commute to Denver can be an enormous burden for patients and their families at a difficult time. And in the winter months, road closures can mean hours stuck in traffic, or worse, missed treatments.
"Nobody wants to skip a day of treatment, and that's why a lot of people decide it's not worth the risk, so they just pick up and leave," said Shelley Thompson, chief development officer for the Summit Medical Center Foundation. "Getting cancer shouldn't mean having to move to the Front Range."
That major inconvenience, coupled with growing patient volumes that made the expansion feasible, prompted hospital officials to kick off the fundraising effort in 2015.
"Working in the hospital for years, you hear how each provider and associate has someone in their lives who's been affected by cancer and had to tell them their treatment options," said Suzanne Lifgren, marketing and communications manager for St. Anthony. "Stories like that just bubble to a head and it's recognized as a clear community need. If your life is on the line, you don't need the added stress of long commutes or relocation."
St. Anthony hopes that in addition to providing convenient chemotherapy treatment, the new facility will also attract more specialists to the area.
Setting up a practice can be extremely expensive in Summit County, where rents are high, available spaces are scarce and patient volumes are relatively low.
Lifgren likened the new facility to the coworking spaces that have popped up around the county to provide entrepreneurs with some of the office area and equipment they need to get their businesses going. St. Anthony is hoping to bring in more doctors from fields like ear nose and throat, endocrinology and retinal medicine.
"Infusion therapy is a big deal, and cancer is a very big part of that," said Thompson. "But it's also a big deal to provide space for specialists to work up here and bring a wider variety of care closer to home."