Center will revamp patient care

The pending expansion of the Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center could propel the University and hospital further into the top echelons of cancer centers nationwide, Yale School of Medicine faculty members and administrators said Wednesday.

The facility, expected to total 497,000 square feet over 14 stories including 112 inpatient rooms and 12 operating rooms, will dramatically increase the available space for cancer diagnosis and treatment. Perhaps more importantly, faculty members said, the consolidation of many cancer care services under one roof will fundamentally change the way Yale’s Comprehensive Cancer Center sees patients. This move, some said, will set Yale apart from all but a handful of elite cancer centers and help it keep its federally-designated “comprehensive” status.

The new facility should also improve the Medical School’s ability to attract new faculty in oncology and related specialties, though some said a new building is only part of the cancer program’s appeal.

Building a new center is vital to the future of the cancer care program and the School of Medicine overall, said Robert Alpern, the school’s dean.

“It’s really what the hospital and the Medical School need to go where we want to go,” Alpern said. “We’ve decided that this will be a center of excellence for us.”

Yale-New Haven Hospital currently includes a Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of only 39 nationwide and the only one in Southern New England, according to the National Cancer Institute. The designation comes after a federal review of research and clinical programs available. Yale’s center earned the distinction in 1974, and NCI reviews each program every five years. Yale’s review will be in June, and confirmed plans for new facility will be vital for a successful review, Alpern said.

“I think it was essential,” he said. “[Federal reviewers] were not happy with the cancer facilities. Our cancer space was scattered all over campus.”

The planned building will integrate medical oncology, surgical oncology, diagnostic and therapeutic radiology, pathology and other specialties whose services are currently spread over about five buildings, said Dr. Edward Chu, chief of medical oncology. Inpatient and outpatient care will be housed next to each other, allowing for a better continuity of care and increased efficiency, Yale-New Haven Cancer Center Director Dr. Robert Edelson said. Inpatients and outpatients often receive similar care, including chemotherapy and clinical trials, usually from the same physicians, he said.

Besides diagnostic and treatment services, the new center will include clinical research spaces, Chu said. Edelson said the cancer center has a long, rich history in applying basic research — it was the first to introduce chemotherapy, now ubiquitous, as a treatment option — and is now testing 20 new treatments developed by Yale researchers. He said the new facility will only help.

“The very best care available means you have to be at the interface of clinical care and scientific understanding,” he said.

Dr. Beverly Mitchell, deputy director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Stanford University, said having just one building combining clinical practice and research will play to Yale’s strengths.

“To have a wonderful new building will make possible the application of Yale’s excellent basic research,” she said. “It will make Yale’s program a really attractive one.”

Having a separate building for a cancer center that is part of a larger hospital, as Yale will, is rare, Mitchell said. Though basic science research in laboratories will not take place in the center as planned, Chu said he expects a new facility for such research will not be far behind completion of the announced center.

Faculty recruitment had been in the work for more than a year before yesterday’s announcement. Chu said 11 new medical oncologists were recruited to Yale within the last year and a half, and Alpern said other faculty members have come to Yale with interests in cancer care and research, soon to be followed by even more. Edelson said five of the 11 have major national reputations in their field, and the others are promising clinicians and scientists at the earlier stages of their careers. He said the new center will assist in bringing in more prestigious physicians.

“It gives us a competitive advantage in recruiting the very best cancer care providers to our university,” he said. “We are always competing with top-notch institutions that often have superb facilities.”

Plans for the new building were part of the recruiting efforts, but the new hires did not choose Yale solely based on having a new building, Alpern said.

“They came for the cancer program,” he said. “They came to join the Yale cancer center because we have great plans for it. It’s not just the building.”

Dr. Frank Detterbeck, the chief of thoracic surgery who was recruited to Yale nine months ago, said the cancer center plans were not the only factors that entered into his decision.

“I came to Yale because I think that Yale has the potential to be one of the nation’s best cancer centers,” he said. “It has to do with the strength of the people who are over here, the atmosphere that encourages collaboration between researchers and physicians taking care of patients, and it also has to do with the efforts the cancer center was making to deliver state of the art care. I don’t want to say that the building was the only factor.”

Dr. James Brink, chair of diagnostic radiology, said the new facilities will enable his department to dramatically increase imaging capacity to detect cancer — nearly doubling in the case of magnetic resonance imaging, and increasing by about 50 percent for computed tomography.

Dr. Peter Glazer, chair of therapeutic radiology, said the new center will be a significant improvement over current facilities.

“We’re landlocked in our old facility,” he said.

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