By Becky Wiese
Driving east on Route 9 near the airport, it’s impossible not to notice the new buildings, many of which house medical practices and offices. One such building is the new home of Illinois CancerCare’s Bloomington offices.
Note that it’s a new home … not a new practice.
“We’ve had a full-time presence in Bloomington-Normal for the past eight years,” explains Dr. Patrick Gomez, a board-certified oncologist who treats patients in Bloomington and surrounding communities. Illinois CancerCare, which was founded and is still based in Peoria, comprises an overall team of 18 oncologists and 18 advanced practice nurses (APNs) whose goal is to provide state-of-the-art cancer and blood disease treatment and participating in breakthrough research for treatment and medicine.
Four members of that team, Dr. Pankaj Kumar, who is also board certified in oncology and hematology, and Dr. Gomez along with advanced practice nurses Nancy Erwin and Sarah Lindsey, in addition to nurses, techs, and administrative staff, make up the Bloomington-based Illinois CancerCare clinic.
Important to note is the fact that the Bloomington-Normal community is “home” to the physicians and nurses. “We are heavily involved in Bloomington-Normal, both professionally through participation in events such as Race for the Cure and Survivorship Day, and personally, as this is where our families live as well,” says Dr. Kumar.
New Facility Specs
From its inception in 1977 when Dr. Stephan Cullinan opened his medical practice, the vision was to take the medical care to the people who needed it so they did not have to travel extensively for appointments and treatment. Thus, Dr. Cullinan started seeing patients in outreach clinics, including Bloomington and Pontiac in 1978. “It’s accurate to say that Illinois CancerCare has been a part of the Bloomington-Normal community for more than 30 years,” says Dr. Kumar.
The need for cancer care and treatment has grown over the years, and so has the size of the Bloomington-Normal practice. “We have been here full-time since 2007,” explains Dr. Kumar. “This is an entirely Bloomington-based practice. We certainly have the support and advantages of being part of the larger Illinois CancerCare network, but our commitment is to Bloomington-Normal and the surrounding communities.”
Their new “home” is definitely more amenable to treating the 60-100 patients they see on a daily basis. Their previous office was about 2,000 square feet of leased space in the Eastland Medical Plaza at OSF St. Joseph Hospital. “Our waiting room was literally a hallway between the offices,” explains Nancy Erwin, APN.
The $2 million office has more than 8,000 square feet, including a contemporary, comfortable reception and waiting area. There are seven exam rooms and 15 chemotherapy treatment chairs, all of which have enough space to accommodate the patient and a support person. An on-site lab allows patients to have lab work done at their appointment time — which is both more convenient for them as well as more efficient for the staff, as results are available immediately.
Also on-site is a CT scanner, which, along with the images for diagnosis and treatment, can also be used for emergency scans to solve acute issues, thereby decreasing the need for patients to go to the emergency room.
The new facility was designed with patients in mind for issues such as better flow, more openness, a more convenient location, and easier access from the parking lot; in fact, patients were asked to give their input about how to improve the layout and atmosphere of the office.
“We purposely designed the new office — the waiting area, chemotherapy treatment area, and exam rooms — to be more open because people wanted to be visible,” says Dr. Gomez. “We got information from different people, and their concerns as well. Everyone had a voice.” Dr. Kumar adds, “It was exciting for patients to be included in the process.”
One feature that was not available at previous locations for the Bloomington Illinois CancerCare office was a pharmacy. The new office has dedicated space for a retail pharmacy for patients so they can get the prescriptions filled on-site. The specialty pharmacy will carry cancer drugs in addition to oral drugs for any condition.
“An added benefit,” says Dr. Gomez, “is that when patients have questions about their medications and possible side effects, concerns with interactions with other drugs, or other issues, they can be addressed and reviewed by the pharmacist right there.”
Of course, having more office space in order to treat more patients also means that the practice needed more personnel. “We’ve added 12 employees, including nurses, radiology technicians, lab technicians, medical records staff, plus a pharmacist and pharmacy techs,” says Erwin.
Enhanced Ability to Participate in Clinical Research Trials
Illinois CancerCare is well-known nationwide for its efforts to be on the cutting edge of new treatment protocols. While patients from the Bloomington-Normal area have always been encouraged to participate in research trials when possible, the local office will do much to bring more opportunities to Bloomington area residents, as well as make it more convenient. “Being able to do more locally is a great benefit to the entire community,” says Sarah Lindsey, APN.
Jamie Harper, director of clinical research, adds, “Several cutting edge trials are available in Bloomington. For example, we have a trial that considers each patient’s own genetic mutations and then uses those mutations as a basis for choosing which medication to use, rather than choosing the medication on just the type of cancer. This results in a more personalized treatment plan.”
Other trials include aspects of supportive care, such as the best ways to manage nausea and how to better control side effects such as peripheral neuropathy and fatigue.
The larger, better equipped office will allow more patients to be involved in more studies simply because of the way some studies are designed. “Some studies require labs to be drawn or CT scans to be done at very specific times — with this new facility, we are equipped to be able to do that much more conveniently for the patient,” explains Harper.
Overall, there is more space for researchers to interact with patients, which in turn, encourages increased participation. “The regulatory requirements for additional on-site services are largely fulfilled for many research trials,” adds Dr. Kumar.
Focus on Patient Care
The first day of operations in the new Illinois CancerCare facility was April 20th. “We closed our old office on Friday, and opened for business on Monday,” says Erwin. Admittedly, they’ve gotten a lot of experience in moving. “We’ve moved locations four times in the last eight years,” says Dr. Kumar, each move due to the growth of the practice. That past experience, plus the benefit of being part of a larger system, enabled them to see close to 70 patients on the first day — with no glitches.
The desire to put the patient first reveals a lot about the culture at Illinois CancerCare. “At the end of the day, it’s about the people,” says Dr. Kumar, referring to both the patients they treat and the medical staff. “We are very thankful to our patients and their families and to the referring physicians who give us the opportunity to participate in their care. It’s an absolute privilege. Plus our staff is very seasoned and professional — we have the ‘A’ team.”
Having cancer is a traumatic life experience, one that leads to strong bonds between patients, their families, and their medical providers. “We really get to know the patients and their families,” admits Lindsey. “It often feels like we’re part of the patient’s family — it’s an intimate relationship, for the doctors and the nurses.”
The new Illinois CancerCare office provides excellent cancer care and treatment to Bloomington-Normal patients and patients in neighboring communities as well. The physicians and advanced practice nurses still hold clinics in smaller towns to give more patients access to care.
With the increased abilities afforded by the expanded and updated facility, more patients will be able to not only receive cutting-edge care, but will be able to participate in additional research programs that will, in turn, help find solutions and cures for current and future patients.
The Illinois CancerCare office in Bloomington is located at 3105 Magory Drive. For more information, call 309-662-2102 or click illinoiscancercare.com.
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