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Cancer Support and Care: How a New Floor Changes Everything

Cancer Care


You may have noticed the expansion at Gulf Coast Medical Center over the past several months. While towering cranes, webs of scaffolding, giant facades, and construction barriers look hectic, the carefully planned additions will ensure streamlined services for a growing Southwest Florida community.

The crown jewel of the expansion is the top floor, an inpatient center solely dedicated to treating cancer patients and offering comfort to them and their families.

The floor, part of the Regional Cancer Center’s all-encompassing program, features 108 patient beds, spacious rooms filled with sunlight, therapy and treatment options, an intensive care unit, cutting-edge technology, and much more.

The Regional Cancer Center at Gulf Coast Medical Center’s opening on Aug. 19 means many things, but perhaps the most important one is this: Patients no longer have to worry about going anywhere else for exceptional care. Everything they need is right here.

Here are some other things you need to know:

What is the Regional Cancer Center, and who are the major players?

The RCC is a partnership between Lee Health, 21st Century Oncology, and Florida Cancer Specialists. Since its founding, the RCC has brought together the best providers in the region under one umbrella.

The RCC currently has an outpatient center at the Sanctuary in Fort Myers. The new inpatient center on the 7th floor at Gulf Coast Medical Center completes the circle of care and replaces inpatient services previously available at Lee Memorial Hospital.

But this is more than just an expansion or a move. The new floor is designed to be a care destination, an example of a cancer program at its pinnacle.

What does 'care destination' mean?

A “care destination” means a focal point for the community. They can now look to one place for services and support. The floor — a hospital within a hospital — has the same advantages, excellence, and outcomes as other spots such as MD Anderson Cancer in Jacksonville or Memorial Sloan Kettering in Miami.

And now, patients don’t have to worry about the hassle of travel.

“We want to be viewed as a facility that has excellence in many places. We know that this community has excellence in pediatrics. We know that this community has excellence in cardiac. But a lot of people don’t realize that we have excellence in cancer care already,” says Dr. Mark Bloomston, medical director of South Florida Surgical Oncology.

Dr. Bloomston wants the community to know that cancer providers at RCC are a special breed.

“There are a lot of providers in this community that just eat, drink and sleep cancer,” he said. “That’s all they do. And right now, the cancer center is thought of as this building over on Colonial, but it’s more than just a building — it’s an entire thought process.”

That thought process includes getting the word out that care is available, and the program now has a beacon on the top floor of a major hospital.

“We’re not just a provider for our own community. We want to be a site of destination,” Dr. Bloomston says. “There’s no reason that people from Sebring, Boca Raton, and other places would not think to travel to Fort Myers for their cancer care.”

The new floor houses a variety of specific services

The Regional Cancer Center at Gulf Coast Medical Center provides:

  • New operating rooms for cancer surgery
  • Inpatient chemotherapy
  • Examination rooms
  • Onsite testing
  • ER doctors with special cancer training
  • Supportive care for toxicity and other complications from treatment
  • Surgical robots for less invasive procedures
  • Access to the latest research and clinical trials
  • Nurse navigators who help guide patients through their journey

“Patient and provider flow is much improved. We’ve set up an environment so patients and families experience a multidisciplinary approach,” Dr. Bloomston says. “We can move from room to room, conduct conferences, tumor boards, use the space to have advanced discussion and take advantage of technology. These are logistics that you take advantage of in a hospital.”

Special amenities are huge

The last thing patients need is to be transported to another site in their time of need.

The new floor’s intensive care unit provides top-level care and peace-of-mind. Patients with complicated operations recover onsite, surrounded by clinicians with special cancer training.

And that goes for other services as well. Emergency room doctors spring into action and send patients to the top floor if cancer is suspected or could be part of their complications. Exam rooms on the floor speed up diagnosis and easily transition patients into treatment – possibly in the same day.

“Some of the unique things, for example – we’re going to have rooms where patients are getting radiation. They have to be isolated,” Dr. Bloomston says. “We have specialty rooms available to do that. Patients who need special gynecologic examinations, we’re going to have that capability built into the floor.

“They don’t even have to leave the floor or even their room to get a specific examination.”

There is an emphasis on compassion and comfort

A cancer diagnosis is a scary, life-changing moment. Patients don’t need the stress of wondering what to do next. They don’t need to sit in traffic to find their next appointment during a high-stress time.

RCC’s nurse navigators will tell patients what they need to know and guide them along to the next step. They serve as expert guides who demonstrate how care works. They answer questions and make sure family is involved.

They can even help with transportation and financial questions so that patients can concentrate on getting better.

New conference rooms and bigger spaces ensure teams of providers regularly meet with patients and families to discuss individual cases. Every patient is different, so providers welcome feedback and empower patients to make decisions.

“The passion that oncology providers carry is very much family minded, meaning that our group of providers functions like a family and patients become part of that family,” Dr. Bloomston says. “They are treated like family. Decisions are made as if they are our own family members, and they are not just numbers in a trial or a patient on a schedule. Those providers think about them day and night.”

The personal touch makes a difference

In the past, the Regional Cancer Center may not have automatically sprung to mind when patients considered cancer care options. But Dr. Bloomston and other providers, clinicians, and support staff at the RCC are ready to change all of that.

“We’re going to have 108 inpatient cancer beds,” Dr. Bloomston says. “That’s a major cancer hospital. Even though we are contained within a hospital, we’re talking about a massive amount of capability.”

In fact, many RCC patients have gotten second opinions only to find that doctors at other cancer hospitals would do the exact same thing as a local provider.

“In that case,” Dr. Bloomston says, “it often comes down to who you like and trust more.”

And providers at the Regional Cancer Center know that sense of trust goes a long, long way.

Your Community Hospital

  • Gulf Coast Medical Center

    Gulf Coast Medical Center is a Level II Trauma Center serving the community in neurology services, orthopedic services, and general surgery. The hospital offers 24/7 access to emergency care along with being an accredited comprehensive stroke center.

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