Jefferson Hospital reveals state-of-the-art cancer center

| Friday, July 11, 2014, 3:31 a.m.

Jefferson Hospital introduced its Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute on Thursday.

“We are very proud of our new state-of-the-art facility,” Jefferson Hospital executive vice president and Chief Operating Officer Louise Urban said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the cancer center. “We designed this to meet the needs of our cancer patients and it is like no other facility around.”

Describing the center as a “one-stop shop,” Dr. James A. Betler, system director of oncology, Southern Region, said cancer patients no longer will have to travel to Pittsburgh for treatment. “About 87 percent of patients migrate to the city for their cancer care. With this center, they will be able to stay here and get the same quality of care. There is free valet parking for all of our cancer patients.”

In planning the center — located on the fourth floor of the South Hills Medical Building adjacent to the hospital — Betler said a Patient Advisory Committee was formed to “focus on what's best for the patients and what they wanted.”

Betler said the spacious waiting room is more of a lounge area for families. “We don't want our patients to have to wait, so this is more of an area for family members to wait.” Large windows beginning in this area, which features plenty of seating and tables, continue down the hallway to offer views of the rolling hills.

“We wanted to create a home-away-from-home feeling,” Betler said. “We said if we wouldn't have it in our home, we don't want it here.”

One of the unique aspects of the institute will be multi-discipline clinics. Betler said 12 disease sites were identified and monthly clinics will address each of those specific cancers. Those clinics will take place in the six pods; each pod has four rooms — one for physicians to consult with each other and the others for patients. Specialists from the Allegheny Health Network will be involved in those clinics.

“The doctors will rotate through the three rooms, the patients do not move,” he said. “The patient will see a surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist, then the doctors will meet together to determine the best course of treatment for each patient.”

Except for two private treatment rooms used for non-ambulatory patients or those with day-long treatments, there area no beds in the new center. “We have moved away from the historic exam tables,” the board certified radiation oncologist and internal medicine physician said.

Tables have been replaced with large, plush, reclining heated massage chairs. “This is much more comfortable for the patients. This also puts the patient and physician at eye level and that makes (the patient) more relaxed.”

“We also got rid of their horrible paper robes,” Betler said. They were replaced with more silky, spa-like gowns that are more comfortable and dignified for the patients.

Along with the two private rooms, there are 20 infusion chairs on the treatment side of the center in semi-private and a community room. The community room has four chairs but no walls so patients can socialize during their treatment.

Thanks to a five-year collaboration between Allegheny Health Network and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, patients can reap the benefit of clinical trials and virtual second opinions with on-site telemedicine. There will be cancer research opportunities and academic training for physicians, nurses and medical students.

When it comes to treatment, the center features the highest standard for mixing chemotherapy drugs. Dr. Jodi Lech, manager of clinical pharmacy services, said the health system was looking ahead. “We wanted to plan for the future and that's what we've done with pharmacy.”

To help assure the sterility and security of the medications, they must be mixed in the cleanest environment possible. “We are way ahead of the curve,” Lech said of the pharmacy, which features a clean room with negative pressure. “We went above the standards to make the room where we mix the chemotherapy as safe as possible.”

The center has been open for about three weeks and clinical nurse manager Melissa Heckert said patients “are in awe. They absolutely love it.”

Two of those patients — Emily Parise of Bloomfield and Joyce Dolfi of Clairton — took part in the ribbon cutting.

“Nobody wants to be in the condition we're in, but if you are this is the place to be because they keep you alive,” said Dolfi, who was diagnosed with renal cancer in December 2012 and receives chemotherapy once a week. “Everyone here is like family and they make you feel safe and comfortable. This new place is the greatest — it's beautiful.”

Parise was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, two weeks after her 29th birthday. She will have surgery at the completion of her chemotherapy.

“This place gives me hope,” Parise said. “It's a terrible thing to get, but they make you feel at home. Every doctor and nurse are so nice and welcoming. Because it's such a long journey you're on, they are with you the whole time and they become like family.”

Other center features include a hair prosthesis room; iPad rentals; nourishment areas with juice, water and fruit; a lab; a room for biopsies and other surgical procedures; two rooms dedicated to ear-nose-throat procedures; high-definition televisions for patient education and tracking; a family library offering education materials as well as cooking classes for healthy eating, family support groups, and other programs for patients and their families; and a team room for transition of care rounds for everyone involved in a patient's care.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1916, or

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