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Allegheny Health Network launches after-hours emergency clinic for cancer patients

| Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, 12:39 p.m.
West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield.
West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield.

Allegheny Health Network has opened an after-hours cancer clinic to reduce the time patients spend in emergency rooms.

The clinic, at West Penn Hospital's Mellon Pavilion Medical Oncology Clinic in Bloomfield, is open from 3 to 11 p.m., the hospital system announced Tuesday.

Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy cause side effects including pain, fever, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration, many of which last into the evening after daytime procedures, said Alex Brennsteiner, clinical program manager of Highmark Home and Community Services. Most cancer patients at AHN are treated between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to a spokeswoman.

“We know well that the needs of a cancer patient extend beyond 5 p.m.,” Brennsteiner said. “This is a way for us to disrupt the traditional model and start to phase in additional support for patients in the evenings.”

The health system counted 3,000 emergency room visits by cancer patients in 2014 across its treatment centers in Western Pennsylvania, according to a news release. Wait times can last hours as ER doctors prioritize trauma and other injuries. Those waits can be especially uncomfortable for someone suffering the side effects of chemotherapy, and the treatments weaken the immune systems of cancer patients, making them vulnerable during the stays, Brennsteiner said.

Cancer treatment side effects often can be eased with IV fluids and anti-emetics to stop nausea and vomiting, said Crystal Costanza Ross, director of program development for Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute.

The hospital system will continue sending cancer patients with more serious medical needs to an emergency room, Ross said.

The clinic, which opened Jan. 23, is staffed by a certified registered nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and a medical assistant who are trained in oncology, Brennsteiner said.

The clinic is modeled after one at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, with which AHN is affiliated, Brennsteiner said.

The news of the after-hours clinic follows AHN's announcement that it would schedule same-day doctors visits for patients who call before 11 a.m. An extensive advertising campaign followed the announcement.

AHN has struggled to get on firm financial footing since Highmark Health formed it in 2013. The seven-hospital system, the region's second-largest after UPMC, reported a net loss of $40 million for 2016.

UPMC's Hillman Cancer Center offers patient visits from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to an emailed statement from Stephanie Dutton, UPMC CancerCenter's chief operating officer. Other UPMC CancerCenter locations are open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Hours can be adjusted at all locations, according to the statement.

UPMC Shadyside has a “Fast Track” program to expedite cancer treatment through the emergency department without formally admitting the patient to the hospital, according to the statement.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or wventeicher@tribweb.com.

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