TACOMA - Talking about MultiCare Health System's new cancer center, John Rieke makes no effort to contain his enthusiasm.
“This is what other cancer centers around the country want to be when they grow up,” he said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Rieke is the medical director of the center, which opened March 1 in the new Milgard Pavilion at Tacoma General Hospital.
In keeping with a national trend, MultiCare’s Cancer Care Center is an effort to put all of the various aspects of cancer care in a single location for easier access by patients.
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The regional center combines sophisticated radiation and chemotherapy treatment, previously located at Allenmore Hospital and elsewhere at Tacoma General, with diagnostic equipment, exam rooms, an on-site lab, oncologists’ offices and a full pharmacy.
Support services include massage, yoga, exercise and art therapy. Eventually, they’ll add wig fitting, makeup consultation and nutrition advice.
“Cancer care is really, really complicated,” said David Nicewonger, the administrator of the center. “It becomes a person’s life.
“Dealing with the emotional and physical aspects the disease is really difficult to do when you have to park your car 100 different times at 100 different offices,” he said. “We don’t want patients to worry about any of that. Their only job should be to get better.”
The center is big. At 35,000 square feet, it’s three times the size of Tacoma General’s previous cancer facility. There’s room for 40 semiprivate and private infusion chairs and 33 chairs for chemotherapy – nearly twice the number previously at the hospital.
But Nicewonger said designers made every effort to make visits as private and soothing as possible.
“We knew big was unavoidable,” he said. “We didn’t want to feel like walking into a bus station or airline terminal.
“This almost becomes their home,” he said. “We want it to be a comfortable as possible.”
For example, chairs where patients must remain for as long as six hours during chemotherapy are wired for television, radio and Internet access. Many have views of Mount Rainier.
And, in the radiation oncology center, patients strapped on their backs while an image-guided linear accelerator as large as a pickup truck swivels around them, gaze up at a glass ceiling designed to look like a forest sky in autumn.
Designers of the center relied heavily on patients’ wishes, Nicewonger said.