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Making rapid gains in Niagara

Posted Dec 16th, 2011

Story by Michael Sherar

Excitement is mounting in the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Regional Cancer Program as everyone is now counting down to the completion of what will be a state-of-the-art centre for the treatment and care of cancer patients.

When it opens to patients in 2013, the 67,000 square- foot Walker Family Cancer Centre, developed in collaboration with the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton and Cancer Care Ontario, will provide comprehensive cancer treatment. Upon opening, the centre will have four bunkers equipped with three radiation machines, special procedure rooms and chemotherapy treatment, healing garden and many ‘green’ features, becoming the hub of a coordinated regional cancer treatment network for Niagara. It will serve the more than 2,500 Niagara residents diagnosed with cancer each year, many of whom previously would have had to travel to Hamilton or Toronto for radiation treatment.

“It’s a very exciting project, the most exciting thing in health care in many years,” says Dr. Janice Giesbrecht, who is leading the development of the Walker Family Cancer Centre programs in her position as Medical Director of Oncology.

The benefits and convenience for future patients is top of mind for Dr. Bill Evans, Regional Vice-President, CCO and President of the Juravinski Cancer Centre. “This means that 95 per cent of Niagara cancer patients will be able to receive their chemotherapy and radiation treatment in their home community instead of driving thousands of kilometres back and forth to appointments.”

The HNHB Regional Cancer Program, which oversees the delivery and quality of cancer services for the counties of Brant, Burlington, Haldimand, Hamilton, Niagara and most of Norfolk, is one of 13 Regional Cancer Programs created by CCO to implement the Ontario Cancer Plan at the regional level.

“We are working toward harnessing the skills and expertise of the Juravinski Centre and coming together to deliver the same quality of radiation therapy services,” says Linda Boich, Vice President of Patients, Service and Strategy for the NHS. “We want to be equal partners in delivering care within the context of high and consistent standards. This is about the patient and being able to provide the most appropriate level of high quality care as close to home as possible.’’

The partnership agreement includes a commitment to move forward with an interconnected cancer information system to ensure a common platform for integrating and sharing information with hospitals.

While continually striving to improve patient care, the NHS is seeing clear evidence of success from the launch last year of its Lung Diagnostic Assessment Program, a partnership between the NHS, Juravinski Cancer Centre, and St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton. The wait time for a diagnosis has dropped dramatically to an average of 27 days from 95 days. In addition to coordinating the diagnostic process for patients, the DAP provides rapid access to cancer surgery at St. Josephs, the designated level 1 centre for lung and esophageal cancer surgery in HNHB.

With its older demographic and high smoking rates, Niagara has some of the highest rates of lung cancer in the province. The DAP sees about 100 patients a week with the next closest in the province seeing about half that number.

“In terms of getting lung cancer patients assessed rapidly and efficiently, it’s been hugely successful. There has been an excellent collaboration developing with thoracic surgeons at St. Joseph’s,” says Dr. Evans.

The Nurse Navigator program, funded by CCO, has proven to be key to the success of the DAP program. Previously, the confusion about how to refer these patients was frustrating for both patients and their physicians. There is high praise for Registered Nurse Colleen Stang, who now coordinates all aspects of care from the time a patient is referred.

Niagara Health System