For residents in Northwest Indiana facing a cancer diagnosis, finding high quality care just became easier. Community Healthcare System has opened a new Cancer and Infusion Center at St. Catherine Hospital, offering patients the ability to receive comprehensive care within the inviting arms of one state-of-the-art space. On March 4, the center received a formal blessing by Deacon Michael Halas, on the same day The Most Reverend Bishop Robert J. McClory said Mass at the hospital and visited patients.
“This journey is so special to patients, we wanted to give them the space they need and deserve while they’re on it,” said Leo Correa, St. Catherine Hospital CEO. “Our team is really focused on the patient experience and being able to deliver comprehensive care. We wanted the environment of care to mirror the quality of care being delivered.”
The Cancer and Infusion Center is housed in a 6,100-square-foot wing of the hospital and features private exam rooms, a centralized nursing station for care customized to patients’ needs, a nourishment center, eight infusion therapy suites with a wealth of natural light and space for family members to visit while patients receive their chemotherapy treatment. The center also provides access to CyberKnife®, a precision radiotherapy system and non-invasive treatment for cancerous and non-cancerous tumors, and other conditions that require radiation therapy.
“We’re extremely excited to be able to provide this to our patients,” said Marie Duval Macke, System Line Administrator, Oncology and Cancer Care for Community Healthcare System. “This new center not only gives patients a beautiful space to come for treatment, it also measures up to the amount of dedication the staff demonstrates. We want to provide the same level of comfort as we do care.”
The previous infusion clinic at St. Catherine Hospital was about 15 percent of the size of the new center and had no windows or available space for family members to visit during an infusion. Patients also were situated closely during treatment.
The new Cancer and Infusion Center’s spacious, private suites offer patients a comfortable recliner, TV, computer space and room for visitors, giving them the comfort they need during infusion treatments which can sometimes last for several hours. A team of registered nurses is stationed at the triage area in the hub of the center, and assists patients with every aspect of their illness and treatment-from routine assessments and blood tests, to the treatment of side effects and related illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, kidney and liver disorders and multiple sclerosis.
“Our goal is to make the experience as seamless as possible for the patient,” Macke said. “Here, they have the sense that they’re moving through a process, not just waiting for one appointment followed by another. This is also safer for the staff and patients and makes for more streamlined communication between every area.”
Both Macke and Correa stressed the importance of true comprehensive cancer care.
“Our approach [in building the Cancer and Infusion Center] has really been more of a holistic one,” Correa said. “We’re not just treating the disease, we’re treating the whole patient.”
The attributes that make the center so inviting are as much in line with quality as they are with creating an uplifting experience for their patients and visitors.
“We’re working on implementing a Distress Screening Tool to assess how patients are really feeling, not just in terms of their physical condition, but how they’re feeling mentally,” Correa said. “This tool not only focuses on the physical components, but also looks at the psychological and social aspects. It helps us as health professionals to identify and support the patient as a whole.”
Correa said that cancer patients are typically more concerned with factors surrounding their diagnosis, such as finances and the well-being of family members.
“People with cancer are at their most vulnerable state and often overwhelmed with decision-making,” Macke echoed. “They face a multitude of social, psychosocial and economic challenges.”
With such challenges, having a team of healthcare professionals who genuinely care is of utmost importance. As Correa and Macke expressed, the Cancer and Infusion Center only enhances that standard that is so clear among their oncology team. Standing at the helm is Amer Sidani, MD, a hematologist-oncologist affiliated with Community Healthcare System. In addition to adhering to the most up-to-date standards of care, Sidani is praised for his compassionate care of his patients.
“We knew there was really a need for comprehensive cancer care in the community,” Sidani said. “This center really makes a big difference to patients, both individually and for their families. It allows them to go through the entire treatment process without interruption.”
Sidani said that, with the addition of this center, patients can receive leading-edge treatment close to home without the need to travel to metropolitan academic medical centers.
“Our previous center wasn’t really a space dedicated to treating the whole patient,” he said. “Now they’re getting that standard of care as well as state-of-the-art treatment right in their backyard.”
Maurice Bigham was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2015 and prostate cancer just last year. He’s been receiving treatment at St. Catherine Hospital since his initial diagnosis, and he credited Sidani with motivating him to fight for his life.
“This guy, he’s a really good doctor,” Bigham said. “He’s one of the reasons I’m still coming here. He goes beyond the care of what you expect from some doctors. You can tell he really cares, and that feels so reassuring. It makes the patient feel stronger about getting better.”
Bigham admitted there was a time he wanted to give up. When he saw a commercial for a children’s hospital featuring a little girl encouraging cancer patients to fight, he had a change of perspective.
“I thought, ‘This little girl is on here with no idea about what it’s like to live a normal life, and I’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself and not even trying,’” he said. “So I came back here, and realized how many people wanted me to keep fighting, too. You can really feel when someone cares, and it makes you care, too, and fight harder. And I have fought.”
The Cancer and Infusion Center is just another positive aspect of Bigham’s treatment.
“I love it here,” he said. “There’s more space, it’s brighter. I can visit everyone and have people visit with me.”
Alanna Hunter-Parks, nurse manager of the Cancer and Infusion Center and the med-surg and oncology floor, said she can feel the change in her team, too.
“I believe opening this new center has made a difference in the dynamic of our team,” she said. “The level of engagement, rising to meet challenges, teamwork and overall excitement for work has just enhanced. You know, new things can energize and excite your routine, and the camaraderie of the team is reflecting that.”
“It’s an honor to work with this team, and for us to work with our patients,” Hunter-Parks said.
In the spring, St. Catherine Hospital will be converting their outdoor grotto into a healing garden. Education and cancer support group activities will be developed and woven into the patient’s journey.
“This is a very loving, very close-knit community here,” Sidani said. “Along with our entire team of specialists, we are really appreciative to be part of these patients’ lives in this vulnerable stage. We are excited to continue delivering comprehensive care in a high-quality environment.”
For more information about the center or cancer care at the hospitals of Community Healthcare System, visit COMHS.org/cancer.