A new ally has stepped up in the fight against cancer. Peek inside OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center’s impressive new facility and see how its concentrated expertise enables better patient care.
In the past decade, the trend toward dedicated treatment centers for cancer, heart disease and other catastrophic illnesses has swept the nation for good reason.
By separating and isolating the most fragile patients, medical centers are not only providing intensely focused, advanced treatment, but also are protecting their patients’ privacy, reducing noise and crowding, and nearly eliminating the potential for infection in those whose immune systems are already compromised.
With the opening of the newly expanded Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care in the OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center complex this fall, the greater Rockford area has gained a strong ally in the fight against cancers of all kinds. The 15,000-square-foot expansion and 3,000 square feet of renovated space offer an effective, patient-friendly environment for providing the finest possible diagnostic and treatment services. The center houses almost all outpatient cancer services in one facility, so cancer patients and their loved ones don’t have to endure the emotional and physical stress of making multiple office visits to several locations.
Dr. Richard E. Nora, a board-certified hematologist and oncologist at OSF, says OSF Saint Anthony has been the regional leader of cancer care for more than 20 years. But the need for expanded cancer treatment services was recognized about three years ago.
“It was obvious to us that the waiting rooms were overcrowded, for one thing,” Nora says. “Patients and family members were elbow to elbow. There was room for only one or two family members to be with each patient. This put a lot of negative stress on patients, which is, naturally, not good for them. We know from experience that patients respond to treatment more fully when they feel safe, comfortable and have a sense of privacy.”
Beth Hayden, OSF director of oncology services, joined the staff five years ago. This is the fifth such project in which she has participated and her enthusiasm is apparent.
“I had the privilege of being involved since the very beginning,” she says. “It’s truly exciting to see it come together.”
Patient opinions and preferences were constantly taken into consideration, right down to the colors, fabrics, natural lighting and even the paintings hung in each treatment area.
“We had 54 pieces of art and voted on which ones the patients and staff liked best,” Hayden says. “It was a lot of fun.”
Patient preferences were also take into consideration when designing the exterior of the treatment center.
“We took their advice to heart. They didn’t want to come to a hard, cold cement building,” Hayden says. “Outside, we have a terrace, which overlooks a garden. We strive to provide a relaxing and calm environment.”
Other factors taken into consideration were proximity of vital laboratory services and an aging facility, Nora explains.
“The chemotherapy and radiation treatment areas were congested,” he recalls. “We had to stack patients and the result was not acceptable to us.”
Nora says administrative and nursing staff members were sent on site visits to research what other medical centers were doing for their cancer patients, in terms of best practices and fiscal implications. OSF also asked patients and their families for input on what would best serve their needs.
“We visited eight sites in the Chicagoland area that had either been new construction or totally renovated,” Hayden says. “We adopted the best of the best.”
Hayden explains that, throughout the conceptual phase, OSF’s patient focus group was consulted frequently to ensure the design team was on target.
“Three years ago, we initiated the design phase. About two years ago, the real construction began,” Nora says. “We celebrated with a dedication and blessing in August, and the center went into full service mid-September.”
Before the doors opened to patients, Nora and his staff conducted drills to simulate every possible contingency, including the need for diagnostic and emergency services supplemented by the nearby MRI and CAT scan teams.
“The center is directly connected to the hospital in case of emergency,” Nora says. “We took turns pretending to be patients with varying common to extraordinary medical emergencies, such as cardiac arrest or strokes. We would practice exactly what needed to be done to respond to those situations with speed and efficiency, while maintaining patient comfort and safety.”
The newly launched Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care offers patients more than twice the number of chemotherapy infusion chairs, increased from 13 to 27. Additionally, the number of examination rooms has been expanded from eight to 12. “On a daily basis, we treat as many as 40 patients in our radiation department,” Nora says. “Plus we have up to 40 patients per day using our chemotherapy infusion chairs. Short-term patients, those who come in for labs, injections and other treatment options, average around 100 per day.”
As a member of the Mayo Clinic Care Network, OSF and the Center for Cancer Care also have direct access to medical experts of the Mayo Clinic for consultation and confirmation of diagnoses and treatment of patients.
The 15,000-square-foot addition plus a 3,000-square-foot renovation address the ever-growing demand for outpatient oncology services in the greater Rockford area and beyond. Given the volume of patients with family members and friends who visit OSF’s cancer center every day, it’s easy to see why such a substantial expansion was needed.
Also integral to patient care are pharmacy and laboratory services, which also were improved. A new wig boutique has opened, too.
“We use the former infusion department for fast-track patients now,” Hayden says. “And each infusion room is spacious enough so that our nurses can walk behind the chairs and access the patients easily, which is particularly good if the patient should ever require emergency treatment. The rooms are placed so that patients seated for treatment are constantly visible to the staff.”
Asked about Patricia D. Pepe, the woman for whom the center is named, Nora says, “Pat Pepe was an extraordinary woman who was diagnosed with cancer many years ago. She was an elegant, funny lady who dealt with her illness with a great deal of grace and humor, despite her situation. She could always be counted on to crack a joke with the staff. For Pat, cancer became a chronic disease with no light at the end of the tunnel. I took care of her for 17 years, during which her family became very much involved.”
On the same day that Patricia Pepe died, early in 2015, her husband, John Pepe, contacted Nora to request a memorial and to make a substantial donation to the center.
“On the day she died, I sent an email to Dr. Nora asking if the new center could be named in her honor,” Pepe says. “Pat was not involved in the development of the center because she was sick for a long time. OSF had treated her since 2001, when she had a major reoccurrence of her breast cancer. Dr. Nora found a fractured bone in her spine, at that time. Since then, you could say we have been joined at the hip with him and the staff. They have been so kind and empathetic beyond reproach.”
When the Pepes moved to Florida in 2004, they conferred with Nora and were referred to an oncologist near them. When they returned to the Rockford area each summer, Patricia’s medical records and treatment programs were switched back to OSF.
John Pepe has enjoyed a long, fulfilling relationship with OSF Saint Anthony ever since he became a member of its advisory board in 1980.
“I stayed on the board until 1989 and served as its treasurer for part of that time,” he says. “The garden in front of the cancer treatment center was named in honor of my wife in 1996, and the garden in front of the hospital’s main entrance honoring St. Francis was also donated by my wife and I.”
Pepe adds that, while he and his wife didn’t talk about requesting that the center be named after her, the idea came naturally.
“They all have been so kind and accommodating,” Pepe explains. “Also, my oldest granddaughter suggested that we donate one of Pat’s favorite paintings to hang in the center.”
Pepe attended the dedication ceremony, and he plans to return to Rockford later this year, when he will tour the finished facility. Meanwhile, the cancer center is already open to patients, thanks in part to the Pepes’ generous donation.
“John said he wanted the new center to have all the bells and whistles,” Nora says. “He wanted it to be the very best it could be.”
Despite the time and hard work invested into the new center, the process has been a rewarding one, says Hayden. “We had a number of challenges, including making all these changes while still treating patients, but the end result is worth it for our patients, their families and all of the OSF staff.”
Nora emphasizes that the center is more than a beautiful new building. It’s a place where people suffering from a devastating disease can find privacy, quiet, comfort, safety and an even better level of care than they had before.
“Beyond patient care, we strive to provide co-patient care and consideration,” Nora says. “It’s not enough for us to treat just the patient. We strongly feel the need to treat the entire family.”
For cancer patients and their families, the center offers hope and support during a time of great difficulty. The Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care makes the challenge just a little less daunting.
“OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center is committed to providing the highest quality of compassionate care to our cancer patients,” says Paula Carynski, OSF president. “And the new facility will allow us to continue that tradition.”