One in two men and one in three women will be found to have cancer in their lifetimes, the American Cancer Society reports, and one local hospital is hoping to give those diagnosed a better experience.
Sarasota Memorial Health Care System this week unveiled its new $27 million radiation oncology center, marking the completion of the first phase of its Cancer Institute.
The center, located on Sarasota Memorial’s University Parkway campus, is one of two SMH is construction as part of the $220 million Cancer Institute.
The institute began with the idea of bringing a complete spectrum of cancer care to Sarasota, and the opening marks the first time a local health system has brought external beam radiation services to patients on the Suncoast.
The 18,000-square-foot facility is equipped with two Varian TrueBeam linear accelerators that precisely target tumors, sparing healthy cells from radiation exposure. This allows local doctors to safely treat smaller tumors in the head, neck, lungs, breast, abdomen, spine and prostate.
The accelerators use real-time imaging that allow pinpoint accuracy, which leads to faster treatment and shorter recovery periods.
“It’s the gold standard for radiation oncology with a lot of technology in one package,” Kunal Saigal, a radiation oncologist who serves as medical director of Sarasota Memorial’s outpatient radiation center, said. “We want to deliver the most cutting edge, evidence-based radiation oncology treatments available. This is just the beginning.”
But the addition is more than new machines, is also includes new staff and a holistic approach to healing.
The center was designed with input from local cancer patients. Typically, radiation centers are placed in the basement of hospitals and can be dark and uninviting.
The new center, however, features colorful walls, skylights, a Serenity Patio with soothing water features, and a garden where patients can escape into nature. There also is a support services suite with access to counseling, patient navigation, financial counseling and other support services.
“We received feedback to try to optimize the patient experience from the moment they walk into the door, to each treatment they receive, to the final day when they finish the treatments and how they’d like to celebrate that moment,” Saigal said. “So it’s really been an extensive process in building a center to really provide the best possible experience to patients.”
The second phase of the Cancer Institute is an oncology tower at SMH’s main campus. It is under construction and is scheduled to open in fall 2021.
The eight-story tower will ensure the inpatient needs of a growing population, such as visiting with specialists and receiving care from nurses, can be met under one roof. Upon completion, patients will be able to have a longer length of stay in a more welcoming environment.
Kelly Batista, director of the Cancer Institute, said that residents of Sarasota enjoy many wonderful things, and great cancer treatment should be among them.
“It’s so special to have something like a new radiation oncology center and the whole vision of the cancer instate here in Sarasota because it’s important that when you find a place such as this one where you love to live and you have friends and your family around, that you don’t need to leave that to have great cancer care,” Batista said.
Aside from new treatments, the institute will feature multidisciplinary teams consisting of experts within a certain specialty — lung cancer, for example — that posses different subspecialties, such as surgeons, radiation oncologists, researchers and rehab therapists.
In a previous interview, Batista said patients had access to all those doctors before, but the institute will bring them all together to review a patient’s case.
SMH President and CEO David Verinder said he’s proud to open the radiation oncology center, but SMH still has work to do.
“It’s been a long journey so far and we’ve got a long journey to go, but this is a great first step,” Verinder said.
The radiation oncology center is now accepting patient appointments for services beginning Aug. 3. To make an appointment, patients are asked to call 917-7575.