A new building on Woman’s Hospital’s campus was bustling Thursday with nurses and hospital staffers, interspersed with construction workers in bright orange shirts, all traversing the new Breast and GYN Cancer Pavilion ahead of open houses next week.
Wooden pallets were propped up against a wall on the first floor — underneath an artfully-designed quote from a cancer patient that read: “I promised myself I would help other women like me get through cancer,” — stopping there and betraying the work left to do before the building opens its doors officially on May 1.
The $19 million facility is pitched as a first for the Gulf South region, the only place dedicated entirely to breast and GYN cancer services. But executives showing off the place suspect that, focusing only on those two types of cancer, it perhaps is unique in the U.S. and the type of destination facility that will draw patients from all over the South.
“We’re anxious to show it off,” said Teri Fontenot, president and CEO of Woman’s Hospital.
The cancer pavilion sits adjacent, by design, to Woman’s main hospital off Airline Highway in south Baton Rouge. But its machinations are the product of a partnership between some of Baton Rouge’s legacy medical institutions, with Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center joining forces with Woman’s to bring the unique, narrowly-focused cancer center to life.
The facility is not the only new cancer center in the region. In fact, it is only the latest. Baton Rouge General expects to start work on a $10 million expansion to its Pennington Cancer Center by June, finishing it in 2019. Ochsner Medical Center-Baton Rouge completed a $13 million, 20,000-square-foot cancer center in the medical office building on its O’Neal Lane campus last year, and Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center completed a $25 million expansion a few years ago. An $85 million proton radiation therapy center is yet another cancer facility planned in Baton Rouge, by Provident ProtonCare, itself partnering with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, OLOL system hospitals and Woman’s Hospital.
“People are getting older, and living longer with cancer, and we’re getting better at detecting it, and we’re better at treating it,” Fontenot said. “So I think those demographic issues are causing health systems to look at cancer as an area they are projecting is going to be an area of increasing demand.”
Officials behind the new breast and GYN pavilion hope it will stand out as a keystone part of the Baton Rouge market, drawing from a wide swath of the Gulf South. People age 65 or older are nine times more likely to have cancer than those younger than that, Linda Lee, administrator of the Mary Bird Perkins-OLOL Cancer Center, pointed out.
“Our baby boomers are in that window of 65 and above now,” Lee said. “This growth you’re seeing in the community and statewide, and actually nationwide, is the response of the health industry to prepare adequately for that burst in population and increase in cancer.”
Woman's new building stands four floors, spans 39,100 square feet and features a host of cancer services and modern equipment. The second and third floors are engulfed by a large glass atrium designed as a “respite” for patients and family members. On the first floor, a $2 million linear accelerator, found in different iterations at many cancer facilities, is adorned with bells and whistles that make it uniquely suited for breast and GYN cancer treatment. Upstairs, an infusion center features 16 semi-private nooks with private flat-screen televisions and heated seats that are tilted subtly toward the windows for the patients who will be receiving chemotherapy in them.
But the center’s defining innovation, officials say, is its comprehensiveness. The facility is designed to bring every imaginable service related to cancer care — from surgical to radiation to chemotherapy to yoga and art therapy — within its walls. And the hospital connected to it provides support.
Stephen Barnes, director of the Economics and Policy Research Group at LSU, said one trend nationally has been toward consolidation in health care — in large part as a way for providers to gain leverage in negotiations with growing insurers. Clinical partnerships here, he said, offer a more efficient way for hospitals to expand services.
Fontenot called the partnership for the cancer pavilion a “natural outgrowth,” and noted it is not the first. Mary Bird Perkins originally built its facility at the old Woman’s Hospital campus a few miles north on Airline Highway before both outgrew the space.
“We looked at each partner’s strengths and we wanted to, as much as possible, reduce duplication,” Fontenot said. “We could have gone out and recruited radiation oncologists and medical oncologists, but we didn’t want to do that. We don’t want to have an oversupply of very scarce specialties.”
And patients likely won’t be able to tell which institution they’re being treated by at any given moment, lest the nametags on the physicians betray them. That is also by design.
Among the last few parts of the facility that remain unfinished is the second-floor, two-story glass atrium. Renderings on the wall gave a preview of what it will eventually look like, including a host of plants, including live bamboo, comprising a "healing art garden." In massive letters, “stronger together" was plastered on one wall.
“To be able to have all this concentrated in one location is truly unprecedented,” Lee said.