Calaway Young Cancer Center looks back on 5 years
Dr. Doug Rovira jokes he used to light the kerosene lamps when Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs first began offering chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients.
Even then, in the early ’90s, Valley View was ahead of the curve in alleviating some of the stress and worry for cancer patients, who then had to drive many miles and often spend several nights in Grand Junction or Denver in order to receive their regular treatments.
It was the start of something special for Glenwood Springs and Valley View, which will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Calaway Young Cancer Center in September.
A medical oncologist with the cancer center team since the beginning, Rovira recalls that it started when Valley View was seeking accreditation from the American College of Surgeons. A requirement of that process was to conduct a multi-disciplinary review of cancer patients, for which the hospital reached out to the experts at the University of Colorado Medical School. Rovira stepped forward to be part of the review.
In surveying cancer patients, it was clear they wanted to receive treatments closer to home and not have to travel, Rovira said.
Valley View nurses ultimately approached the medical staff and said they could safely give chemotherapy to patients, which at the time was a rather novel idea.
“There was no real model for that in the Rocky Mountain area, but we decided to give it a try,” Rovira said.
“We started basically in an old linen closet at Glenwood Medical Associates,” he said. “When we did a review after two years, it was determined that safety and quality were high, and any complications could be managed by a primary care doctor.”
Eventually, Valley View had an oncologist available to its patients once a week, and the infusion center was moved to the hospital building. By 2008, there were enough patients to warrant a full-time oncologist.
“I was more than happy to jump ship from the big city, and wanted to end my career practicing in a smaller town,” said Rovira, who now serves as one of two medical oncologists at the center along with Dr. Armando Armas.
Around that time, Valley View Hospital Foundation discussed building a cancer center. It was a daunting task to launch a major capital campaign in the throes of a national recession. It hit the Roaring Fork Valley and Garfield County particularly hard, due to the downturn in construction and oil and gas activity.
But the community rallied, recalled Stacey Gavrell, the director of the VVH Foundation, who oversaw the capital campaign.
“It was really unique, because there was such a community momentum around wanting a true comprehensive cancer treatment program here locally,” she said. “People got it, and it also showed the sense of pride in the community.”
Eventually, the campaign raised $7.6 million to top off the $26-million project, thanks in large part to lead gifts totaling $4 million from longtime valley philanthropists Jim and Connie Calaway and Bob Young, the founder of Alpine Bank.
“To have those names not only anchor our campaign, but to live on in perpetuity with the naming of the center was huge for us,” Gavrell said.
Nearly 100 volunteers worked on the foundation’s capital campaign. Key leaders included former board presidents Mary Steinbrecher and Adrian Rippy-Sheehy, and Gino Rossetti, who served as the major gifts chairman.
The 29,600-square-foot Calaway Young Cancer Center replaced and expanded the 5,500-square-foot infusion center that had been in the hospital. The center opened in September 2012.
The key to offering a full-blown cancer treatment program was to add a radiation oncology program and space to offer more comprehensive support to patients, Gavrell said.
Radiation oncologist Dr. Bruce Greene was brought on to develop the radiation treatment program and other services that were ultimately incorporated into the cancer center.
“The original vision was to have a state-of-the-art platform for radiation services, where any and all types of radiation therapy could be practiced,” Greene said.
The center was equipped with a modern linear accelerator, the device used for external beam radiation treatments targeted at a tumor or tumors. The machine is contained in a special room with extremely thick walls, known around the cancer center as “the vault.”
“I think all of us underestimated what the true need for radiation therapy services was, even though we did a very sophisticated feasibility study,” Greene said. “By now, I think it’s safe to say we’ve treated literally thousands of patients.”
By 2014, Greene was joined by a second radiation oncologist, Dr. David Marcus. Greene is now set to retire at the end of August, and Valley View was able to lure another well-known doctor from Emory University in Atlanta, Dr. Pete Rossi, to take Greene’s place.
Two other aspects of Valley View’s cancer treatment services stand out in Greene’s mind.
“We treat anybody who walks through that door, whether they’re a millionaire from Aspen or they’re destitute and have no assets or insurance,” he said.
“I think that’s remarkable in this day and age of ever-increasing economic stress,” Greene said. “Valley View is doing more than their share in open access to basically any patient who walks through the doors.”
The other unique aspect is the wide array of support services that are offered to cancer patients through Valley View’s integrated care program. That runs the gamut from massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to support groups, counseling and emergency assistance for cancer patients.
And, those services are not billed to the patient. They’re funded through Valley View’s ongoing Rally the Valley campaign, which culminates with the Rally the Valley event on Sept. 23.
“Our capital campaign for the cancer center morphed into what is now Rally the Valley, so in addition to advanced treatment technology we have this additional support and care,” Gavrell said. “It’s something that became very personal for people, and very special for us as a foundation.”
GROWTH AND GRATITUDE
“It’s really exceeded my expectations in five years, and it has become a regional facility,” Greene said. “Just two, three years ago, we took another radiation oncologist and now we may need the third in the not-too-distant future.”
Advances in cancer research and new treatments in just the last decade have been remarkable, adds Rovira.
“Patients live longer, there are more interventions and patients may receive multiple lines of therapy,” he said.
The high quality of cancer care at Valley View also allows the hospital to focus on prevention efforts and early detection to help improve survival rates even more, he said.
The gratitude from patients is evident in the many handwritten or emailed messages that often come to the center as a whole, or to a particular doctor, nurse or other care giver.
“I am not possessed of words that could tell you how grateful I am for your loving support and your counsel through these past three weeks,” wrote one patient named Christopher. “Truly, you are one of the most caring and compassionate people I have ever met.”
“You’re the voices that keep us from falling … the engines that keep us in working order, no matter how badly we’re damaged,” wrote another patient named John.
And, offered a patient named Vickie, “It truly amazes me, the depth and capacity for love that your staff has shown in so many ways. I wish for you and your colleagues at the cancer center continued healing and wellness as you continue to heal us.”
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