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Cancer Program, Care Destination Marks One Year

Cancer Care
Author name: Lee Health

How fitting the inpatient center for treating cancer patients at the Regional Cancer Center at Gulf Coast Medical Center (GCMC) should occupy the top floor of the building.

For more than a year, this unique “hospital within a hospital” (part of the Regional Cancer Center) has offered top-flight cancer treatment and services that rival the excellence and outcomes as other national leaders such as MD Anderson Cancer in Jacksonville, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, or Memorial Sloan Kettering in Miami—right here at home, in our community.

The inpatient center at GCMC replaces inpatient services previously available at Lee Memorial Hospital. The RCC also operates an outpatient center at the Sanctuary in Fort Myers.

Dr. Mark Bloomston, medical director of South Florida Surgical Oncology, says RCC at GCMC brings together the best providers under one roof.

“The floor was developed to be a care destination and an example of a cancer program at its pinnacle,” Dr. Bloomston says. “Besides the actual cancer treatment, the team at the center goes even further by integrating the social, psychological and palliative care aspects of care.”

Since opening on Aug. 19, 2020, patients no longer had to worry about traveling to other clinics to receive care, a critical key of enhancing the patient experience, says Dr. Edward Grendys Jr., medical director of Florida Gynecologic Oncology.

“Literally, it can be one-stop shopping. Initial consult, diagnosis, treatment—that could happen in an hour and a half to two hours,” Dr. Grendys notes. “When you do that, patients love it! Rather than, OK, we’re going to do your biopsy, come back and see me in two weeks, you may or may not have cancer.”

The inpatient center has 72 patient beds, spacious private rooms filled with sunlight, therapy and treatment options, cutting-edge technology and more.

“The best move was not to build a whole new building but to expand upon what we have and consolidate cancer care to one location and one campus,” says Dr. Venkata Parsa, a hematologist-oncologist with Lee Physician Group.

Patient-centered cancer care for everyone

“We’re trying to make cancer care more patient-centered,” Dr. Parsa says. “We always ask the patients to involve anyone they want in their decisions. We address their concerns and get them in a better place to make their own decisions after discussion with the team. We have multiple disciplines of medicine working together with patients and their support system.”

Dr. Grendys adds, “Patients always know who their doctor is. When they walk in the door, they’re seeing Doctor X or one of their direct colleagues, and they’ll be sure they’re getting the care they desire and deserve. It’s a personal touch because patients aren’t part of a huge academic center where they’re never quite sure which doctor they’ll be seeing that day.”

At Regional Cancer Center at the Gulf Coast Medical Center, no one is denied treatment and care because of a lack of finances or insurance.

“We care for everyone,” Dr. Grendys stresses. “Nobody gets turned away. That’s not true of Mayo, Miami, Moffitt, Orlando—at Lee Health, nobody is turned away. Every man and woman deserves the best cancer treatment available.”

The first line of communication: RCC GCMC’s oncology nursing staff

Dr. Grendys stresses the importance of one-on-one contact between caregivers and patients. This approach underpins the exceptional patient experience at RCC at GCMC.

“The ability for our cancer team to get the verbal feedback from our nurses, what they are really hearing from the patients, is paramount in providing our patients with the best cancer care possible,” he says. “I think if we pick up on that, patient satisfaction scores increase dramatically.”

Dr. Grendys describes cancer care as an ongoing treatment approach that combines a team of caregivers who address elements of pain relief, comfort, complications, even end-of-life discussions, balancing clinical confidence with empathy and compassion.

The nursing staff at RCC GCMC are credentialed and certified at the highest levels. For the nursing staff, their academic and clinical education is not a one-off, explains Michelle Stevens Hollenbeck, RN, OCN, Nursing Director of Surgical Oncology at RCC GCMC. The clinical learning continues long after they’ve completed nursing school and been certified as registered nurses.

“Because oncology nursing is such a dynamic specialty, the knowledge and skills needed to provide cancer care can change,” Michelle says. “Maintaining certification indicates our knowledge is up-to-date and reflects current practice. We ensure that our staff is certified they meet competency standards by having them renew their certification every four years through the Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation.”

The continuing medical education informs the staff’s clinical confidence. That helps get the diagnosis right the first time, ensures timely treatments, and enhances patient management.

The center’s oncology nursing staff plays many pivotal roles at the patient bedside — educating, encouraging, communicating, and coordinating care. Because of their constant one-on-one time with their patients, they often form strong relationships with their patients, as well as their families.

“These relationships are vital in developing a comprehensive plan of treatment that goes beyond addressing the cancer itself,” Michelle says. “Our nurses know what their patients need not only medically, but also mentally and emotionally, which helps them along their cancer journey.”

Women’s cancer care under one roof

Cancer diagnosis and treatment are the biggest, most disruptive challenges that occur in a patient’s life.

These doctors know that personal connection and real conversation help push care to new levels. This was the approach behind providing conjoined care—medical and surgery—on the seventh floor.

“We do surgery right there, but the ability to perform neurological examinations, for example, also right there means we don’t have to transfer patients for stent placements—that’s huge for the patient. Having all of that under one roof really benefits patients over the long-term. They can stay in the same house and get it all done,” Dr. Bloomston says.

Continuity of cancer beyond treatment and care combines a team of caregivers who address elements of pain relief, comfort, complications, and even end-of-life discussions.

“This can involve families, social and financial constraints for a family – who is going to take mom and dad back and forth to the doctor, to chemo, to radiation?” he says. “With all the care centralized on the seventh floor, the team gets involved in one room and maybe all that communication is improved.”

An expanded nurse navigator program

Feeling overwhelmed and scared — a cancer diagnosis can be a complicated time. Nurse navigators help take stress away and manage the care plan.

Nurse navigators like Veena Sharma, R.N., a navigator with RCC, are specially trained in cancer care and coordinating treatment among members of the patient’s cancer care team.

“Navigators help patients make the transition from when they are first diagnosed and walk them through scans, specialties, tests—holding hands with patients, helping them understand and know where to be at any given time. We also handle transportation and insurance questions to minimize roadblocks.

Coming of Age

A year has come and gone at Regional Cancer Center at Gulf Coast Medical Center. During that time, Dr. James Orr, a gynecologic oncologist with Genesis Care Oncology, believes RCC has come of age, as he puts it.

“Medical information, medical science is doubling every two to two and half years. We’re on a fast pace,” he says. “No one person can keep up with everything. But we have bright minds, dedicated people, and the cancer team has become whole.”

Dr. Orr says the goal was to create a program for cancer patients and develop that program—not just on the floor in the operating room but create protocols for best care so the Center can meet the different needs of cancer patients.

“The knowledge, the science, the outcomes of patients with cancer are best when physicians are doing it every day are at high-volume places, every day,” Dr. Orr says. “We have the tools and the space to continually strive toward improving patient outcomes. We’ve created an environment that says we care. That is a win, win, win.”