One year after opening last September, the Calaway-Young Cancer Center at Valley View Hospital is exceeding expectations, according to doctors and others at the center.
The $26 million, 30,000-square-foot cancer center opened last year as part of a major hospital expansion that had been under construction for two years. Its centerpiece in some respects is a state-of-the-art cancer radiation treatment program made possible by the $3 million linear accelerator used to administer pinpoint radiation treatments.
But that’s just the science. Some of the biggest benefits generated by the new center have more to with the human elements of treating cancer, particularly the ability to treat patients without exhausting, costly and draining trips out of town for radiation treatments.
“The travel is a formidable obstacle” during treatment, said Dr. Bruce Greene, radiation oncologist at the center, “in many cases devastating to patients.”
Green noted that about three out of four cancer patients benefit from a course of radiation treatment. Prior to the opening of the center, patients in the Roaring Fork Valley had to travel at least to Edwards or Grand Junction for radiation treatment, often every day for weeks or longer.
“Patients are extraordinarily grateful that service is here,” he said.
Hospital officials weren’t certain precisely how many patients have been treated at the center during its first year, but they said utilization of the center has exceeded projections and “several hundred local patients have been treated here with the blessing of remaining close to family and friends during treatment and not having to travel hundreds of miles daily for treatment.”
The cancer center is named after Carbondale philanthropists Jim and Connie Calaway and Alpine Bank founder and chairman Bob Young, who collectively donated $4 million for its construction, according to the Post Independent story about the opening of the center.
Hi tech, high touch
But as Greene emphasized, it is not all about numbers. Having relocated here from Florida about six months before the center opened, he cited a litany of other things that make Calaway-Young “really, a world-class center.”
Those things include an integrated approach to patient care, including weekly meetings among the center’s three oncologists to discuss all new cancer patients, meetings with other medical specialists (many located elsewhere in the same building) to discuss other aspects of care patients may be undergoing, and the host of ancillary services offered at the center such as massage, acupuncture, support and survivorship programs, exercise classes, yoga and Tai Chi.
“This arrangement here, where we’re all under the same roof and right across the hall from one another, is fabulous,” Greene said. “And that makes for exceptional care.”
It’s “like a little Mayo Clinic,” said Dr. Armando Armas, the newly arrived medical oncologist director at the center who began working here last month. “It’s like everything in one place. ... We treat the body and soul.”
Armas would know. In addition to working in Florida with Greene for about 20 years, his résumé includes stints at the Mayo Clinic and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Greene said he let Armas know when the center began recruiting for a medical oncologist. Armas said he was impressed by the center and welcomed the opportunity to work with Greene again.
Greene said integrated therapies such as those offered at the center often take a back seat to science even though they provide benefits to patients who are undergoing stressful procedures and living with the day-today burdens of cancer.
“That has been impressive for me — to observe how helpful that is to the patients,” he said.
As successful as the center’s first year has been, Greene and Armas both said it won’t be ideal for all patients, some of whom will find more suitable expertise or equipment elsewhere. In those cases, the center taps into its network of experts to find a more appropriate treatment venue.
Calaway-Young Center promotional materials say the center partners with the University of Colorado Cancer Center and collaborates with Aspen Valley Hospital and Grand River Hospital District.
One year in, Greene said the center is “exceeding expectations,” and he said much of that credit goes to the hospital administration, which “is intensely committed to making this program work.”
“I think this is a special place,” he concluded.