Summit hospital steps up efforts in battle against cancer
Whether a distant uncle, friend’s parent or immediate relative — perhaps even themselves — almost no one can say they’ve not at some point been affected by cancer.
Even in relatively small, if growing, Summit County, the community encounters a number of cases of this life-altering disease each year. Some residents utilize the Shaw Breast Center & Cancer Clinic in Frisco, but few other local options for fending off the harsh malady exist, with many forced to journey down to the Denver for treatments.
This inconvenience, if not potential interruption in care due to such factors as adverse weather or health complications, has led Summit County’s area hospital St. Anthony Summit Medical Center to re-think how it can best serve its patients. And sooner than later.
“What we want to do is broaden the availability of specialty care in the community,” said longtime preside and CEO of St. Anthony Paul Chodkowski. “We asked what are some of the specialties people would like to see up here, and one of the first things we’ve heard most concern about is the need for these services.”
He is not immune to cancer’s reach. He calls the hospital’s efforts personal because his wife Diane, 62, is currently facing her second instance of bladder cancer after its recent reoccurrence following losing a kidney two years ago. She, like most other Summit County residents, receives her treatment in Denver.
“She’s doing well and even skied with me today,” said Chodkowski. “But that’s an example of why I think it’s so important, though that’s not what this is about. We’re very vested in trying to get care local, so that we can keep our patients from having to travel down the hill or over a pass and be able to have a highly-qualified oncologist oversee the entire program.”
Beginning by late March, the Centura Health-run Level III Trauma Center in Frisco will offer the services of Dr. Russell Tolley, M.D. once a week with the assistance of his nurse practitioner to provide chemotherapy and other infusion needs. As volumes demand it, Tolley, who primarily operates out of Avista Adventist Hospital in the metro area, will increase his availability up to three days each week.
But the plan is for that to only be the start. The hospital intends to more thoroughly invest in these treatments, as well as other more focused tracks of care, by opening a full infusion and multi-specialty center on the third floor of the adjacent Medical Office Building by the fall.
Centura has done some initial research on population counts requiring cancer treatment based on referrals from recently acquired High Country Healthcare and the zip codes of patients within its overall health-care system but remains unsure of how many locals will be served by the new care line. It’s clear those totals will not lead to financial gains — at least not for quite some time.
The organization, however, says it views the endeavor as more about sense than dollars.
“It’s the right thing to do,” explained Suzanne Lifgren, marketing manager for St. Anthony Summit. “We believe it is our mission and goal, as a nonprofit Catholic hospital, to serve the community. The concept of traveling two hours for 15 minutes of treatment, it’s not good health care.”
Because opening the infusion center, with the hospital already leasing the space from the county, is likely to be a losing venture, St. Anthony is tasked with raising approximately $750,000 of the estimated $1.3 million cost to build it. The hospital’s foundation is well on its way to reaching this May goal and would then take out a loan on the remaining balance.
In the meantime, St. Anthony is still looking for backers to lend financial support to ensure the center — which will also offer a rotation of specialists in endocrinology, breast-care and retinal focus — meets those funding needs to starting the build out. If those late-spring hopes can be met, construction would begin in early summer, with patients arriving for on-site, one-stop shop treatment before next ski season.
The advantages of receiving cancer care at the hospital are threefold for county residents, according to St. Anthony Summit. The obvious first component is improved local options allow patients to stay in the area, where they often have family and support systems to assist with the healing process. The other two have to do with the evolution of cancer treatment.
Next, the development of an infusion center allows more technologically advanced methods for care. Chemotherapy and radiation remain components of the battle with cancer, but today, some forms of the disease are controlled through designer drugs that are DNA-specific and genetically-tagged per the patient. And the infusion center, where a pharmaceutical hood allows doctors to produce and administer more advanced, high-reaction drugs, would offer more of these possibilities.
Thirdly, on top of an emergency hospital’s ability to see more high-risk cases because it can handle any significant snags in treatments versus, say, a standalone clinic, receiving care at a single location offers a more seamless experience during full-term care. This entails diagnosis to recovery and everything in between and would often include the primary care physician and specialists right in the same setting, possibly even expediting the treatment process.
As part of these larger, more holistic cancer pursuits, St. Anthony Summit has also recently stepped up its partnership with the Domus Pacis Family Respite. Through short-term donations of area homes, the Frisco-based nonprofit provides upwards of 200 getaways for cancer patients and their families to recuperate or manage end-of-life experiences in peace.
Beyond some financial support, St. Anthony has become the title sponsor for the four concerts Domus Pacis puts on each year as its primary fundraiser to offer families this unique healing vacation experience. The hospital has in years past sponsored one of the four music events but saw the benefits of upping the ante moving forward to further aid the larger cancer efforts in the community.
“St. Anthony supports helping cancer victims recover or get the care they need in all different aspects,” said Lifgren. “We want to be able to help support them with that program and believe sometimes in getting away from the burden of cancer and connecting with your family when a cancer diagnosis has been given.”
With the future addition of the infusion center at St. Anthony Summit, the fight against cancer stands to become progressively more suitable for area residents, if not also more successful. The increased collaboration among community partners to beat the disease should help offer a more comfortable environment for patients, too.
“To date, the majority of patients come up from Denver to utilize our area, but, hopefully in the future, some local patients whose families want to have a reunion or something like that can take advantage of the homes donated to Domus Pacis,” said Chodkowski. “I believe it will be complimentary for our local patients. It would be really nice.”
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