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Courier-Post: Cooper, MD Anderson treat cancer patients in splendor

Editor’s Note: The following article originally ran on Courier-Post Online on September 4, 2013.

Cooper, MD Anderson treat cancer patients in splendor

Sep. 4, 2013

Written by
Kim Mulford
Courier-Post Staff

Dr. Generosa Grana stepped into the airy, light-filled lobby of Cooper University Health Care’s new cancer center, now under construction in Camden.

She marveled over the tiled artwork climbing the wall to the second floor.

“It’s called the Tree of Life,” Grana noted.

The color-changing panel will be among the first sights to greet patients coming through the cancer center’s glass doors after its grand opening in October.

Six years after planning began, the $100-million project at Two Cooper Plaza is expected to attract people around the region for outpatient treatment. But the gleaming modern facility and its patient-centered design are only part of the draw, Cooper administrators say.

Cooper announced in June it had signed a letter of intent to partner with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, ranked the country’s best hospital for cancer treatment by U.S. News & World Report. The partnership is expected to be formalized and announced — along with the new cancer center’s name — before it opens next month.

The mission of Houston-based MD Anderson’s Cancer Network is to end cancer around the world. The network includes two partner members in Florida and Arizona, and nine certified members in eight states.

It also has numerous affiliations and academic collaborations. In 2012, MD Anderson treated 115,000 people with cancer, nearly one-third as new patients.

“They see such a volume of cancers that they really have expertise more than any other institution,” observed Grana, who is medical director of the Cooper Cancer Institute and a breast cancer specialist.
“They see astronomical numbers. When you see that much volume, you’re going to see very uncommon cancers.”

Cooper first sought the partnership about 16 months ago, as the Camden institution was preparing to open its new medical school, according to Adrienne Kirby, president and CEO of Cooper University Health Care.

“It just was a natural time for the two organizations to come together. We feel very fortunate and blessed to have them be our partner in opening this new cancer center here in Camden, and also in the expansion of our cancer program in Voorhees.”

Patients will be able to access the latest and best cancer treatment, Kirby added. In the future, patients in South Jersey can participate in MD Anderson’s research studies.

In 2012, more than 8,500 people were enrolled in Anderson’s clinical trials, the largest such program nationally. The center attracts more research funding from the National Cancer Institute than any other grant winner.

“It’s the No. 1 treatment program in the world,” Kirby said. “You can’t beat it.”

Already, Cooper and Anderson have collaborated on the construction and planned staffing for the new cancer center, Grana said. The work focuses on myriad details, from how many nurses are required to how Cooper will sequester the pharmacists who will mix individual chemotherapy medications for each patient.

Cooper anticipates hiring an additional 50 people. Its doctors also will spend a week or more in Houston, some working alongside MD Anderson staff during surgeries.
Each patient’s case will be reviewed by a tumor board in one of the Camden center’s new conference rooms. Cooper doctors will present a patient’s history, test results and treatment options, with input from an MD Anderson physician via a real-time connection.

Telecommunications will become more important to health care in the future, said Dr. Margaret Row, vice president of clinical operations at MD Anderson Cancer Network. She spent two years launching its partnership in Arizona.

“I can tell you, the more we can do with telehealth and telemedicine, the better connected the two organizations will be. That’s actually going to improve patient care.”

But patients will first notice thoughtful details in the Camden center’s design by Francis Cauffman, an architectural firm with offices in Philadelphia. A large, landscaped courtyard leads to the lobby entrance, a short walk from a parking garage off Haddon Avenue.

Inside the two-toned metal and glass structure, natural stone and wood abound. The building is designed to meet environmental guidelines set by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Comfortable, deep seats were still wrapped in plastic on a recent afternoon, and boxes were scattered about the space, ready to be unpacked. Original work from New Jersey artists, featuring mostly natural landscapes and local subjects, will be hung throughout the building.

Patients who need it can meet with a multidisciplinary team during the same visit, Grana explained, in order to coordinate care and reduce the number of appointments.

The center’s staff will include genetic counselors, social workers, financial counselors, nutritionists, lab and imaging technicians.

“The patients can come to one location and get all aspects of their cancer needs met,” Kirby noted. “We’re really looking at making it as simple as possible.”

Behind thick walls of concrete and a massive steel door on the center’s first floor is a linear accelerator used to irradiate tumors. Patients can choose their own multi-hued mood lighting while under the beam.

In the light-filled infusion area upstairs, along a wall of windows overlooking the Cooper campus and city skyline, patients can choose where they receive chemotherapy. Sliding glass panels can offer privacy or allow patients to chat with others receiving treatment. Two private infusion rooms offer seclusion for those who need it.

Patients and their families will also have access to a rooftop Tranquility Garden and an indoor cafe in the lobby.

“I think they’ve done a phenomenal job,” Grana said.