BY SUSAN SKOG
When cancer patients are most vulnerable and fears speak loudly, the University of Colorado Health’s new Cancer Center in Fort Collins is there to provide a more life-affirming, hopeful message.
From the concierge greeting at the front door to the navigators who guide patients and their families through treatment, from the smooth curves of the building’s design to the healing garden outside, everything about the new center was consciously designed with the patient in mind.
“Our intention was to create a place of hope and healing,” said JoAnn Lovins, UCHealth service line director for oncology. “It’s now so rewarding to see all the things we all dreamed possible coming together.”
The new center is a service of Poudre Valley Hospital and is located on the Harmony Campus at the southeast corner of Harmony and Timberline roads. It reflects the collective vision of administrators, physicians, nurses, counselors, cancer survivors, family members and others, who worked together to create a center deeply focused on patients’ well-being, she said.
The result of that collective effort is the Cancer Center. “Through one door, we can deliver the best patient experience possible with direct access to a phenomenal group of medical leaders with incredible expertise,” Lovins said.
Beginning the moment patients enter the expansive, natural-light-flooded lobby, trained volunteers make eye contact, show warmth and welcome patients.
“We want people to feel like they’re wrapped in a warm blanket and know, ‘We are going to care for you,’” Lovins said.
It’s the details that make all the difference, said Jenifer Bowman, breast cancer survivor and UCHealth dietitian. “It’s crystal clear to me that the building in which you receive your treatment plays a part in your cancer experience. It’s like it becomes a character in your cancer story, and since you enter that building over and over and spend so much time there, you remember it forever.”
Bowman was a huge voice in the planning process for the new center.
“More than 20 people, oncologists to medical directors, listened to what Jenifer and other survivors had to say, and we based our priorities and decisions on what they shared.”
Bowman recently joined Lovins on a tour of the center as workers completed final touches, including painting walls with bright, nature-inspired colors.
As Bowman saw the ground-level counseling and navigators’ offices that open to healing gardens and trees awash with pink blossoms, she said, “They will just love working here. The counselors and cancer navigators are a touchstone. They helped me when I was feeling anxious so I didn’t stew in my own worries.”
A large conference room will allow multidisciplinary teams that include oncologists, radiologists, surgeons, gastroenterologists, urologists, pulmonologists and primary care physicians to gather to develop a patient’s treatment plan.
Architect Eric Eschenbrenner witnessed the doctors’ design decision to have a larger conference room than originally planned.
“It was a powerful moment when the doctors spoke up and said, ‘It’s more important to have a larger conference space to come together as a team to discuss patients than to have large offices.’ That was the moment when I knew patient-centered care would drive our design,” he said.
A core group of seven physicians will be based at the center — which opens June 9 —and an estimated 25 others with Poudre Valley Hospital privileges will see patients there, Lovins said.
By having a concentration of doctors in the center, the hope is to reduce a patient’s doctor visits by 40 percent. The concentration of physicians allows for better treatment of regional patients, said Dr. Douglas Kemme, a UCHealth medical oncologist who primarily sees patients in Greeley but plans to bring specific cases to the new center.
“Patients who desire or need the latest, cutting-edge treatments no longer have to travel away from their home to places like Mayo Clinic or MD Anderson in Texas,” said Dr. Steven Schuster, a UCHealth medical oncologist who will practice in the center.
The new center is certainly impressive and world-class, but its scale is appropriate for northern Colorado, Lovins said. “We are delivering care on a personalized scale. The staff knows patients, nurses know patients’ preferences, and we all remember personal information about their lives. We will have a photo board with pictures of patients’ lives and experiences outside their cancer journey.
“We all want to be known for who we are. Cancer patients are no different. They want to be known for who they are, not the cancer they have.”
As the tour concluded, Lovins showed Bowman the second-floor infusion suite, where patients will receive chemotherapy. When Bowman saw the infusion suite area, tears welled in her eyes. “This is so calming and beautiful,” she said. “It feels like a safe, positive place where you can get rid of cancer and heal.”
The suite is on the second floor largely because of Vikki Wagner, a two-time breast cancer survivor and now UCHealth employee, who inspired the designers and planning team to give patients “mountain vistas that symbolize hope and transcending adversity,” Wagner said. Thanks to the infusion area’s outdoor patios, patients “can choose to have their chemotherapy in the fresh air and gain inspiration from the mountains.”
The suite includes 16 individual, private infusion spaces designed to remind patients of the strength and beauty of the natural. There also is a larger, living-room-like space with comfortable recliners “where patients and family members can have conversations or watch television together on the days they’re feeling social,” Lovins said.
To gently remind everyone at the center to tap into the healing power of gratitude, a chime will sound throughout the day. The center will continue the PVH tradition of providing warm blankets and patients will be offered comfy heated chairs.
“When I have a few quiet moments to reflect, I am overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone involved, from staff to families, donors to physicians,” she said. “They all are genuinely dedicated to make this the best experience and care. And that drive to always improve our care will continue long after we cross the new threshold.”
This article was written by Susan Skog, a Fort Collins writer and author.