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New cancer center at Milford Regional nears completion; Unique partnership with Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women's hospitals.

Byline: Art Simas

MILFORD - In mid-January, cancer patients will no longer have to travel dozens of miles to and from chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments. It will be available at the new Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center on the campus of Milford Regional Medical Center, opposite the hospital's main entrance.

Officially, the center is 54,000 square feet and costs about $25 million.

But for the people who have to endure the variations of this disease, as well as their family and friends, it's more than a welcome site - and can't be finished soon enough.

Ever since the hint of a partnership three and a half years ago between Dana-Farber, Brigham and Women's and Milford, people started calling and asking when it would open.

"The actual building will be completed at the end of this month, but it takes several weeks of training to get the staff ready to see patients, so that's why it may be delayed a little bit," said Francis M. Saba, Milford Regional president and CEO. "It's possible that some of the services may be available sooner, but it will be fully open in mid-January."

The public will get a preview and tour of the building at an open house on Sunday, Dec. 2, from 1 to 4 p.m.

According to Mr. Saba, what started out as a drive to provide radiation therapy on campus became much more once talks began about expanding the existing program.

"We always felt we had a pretty strong cancer program here. But to grow it, we realized we needed a relationship with a big academic medical center.

"One thing we knew we didn't have was radiation therapy. And our physicians and patients said, `Wouldn't it be great if Milford had a local radiation therapy program; a service that a lot of cancer patients need.'

"We had talked to UMass (Memorial Medical Center), who is our regular partner for a lot of programs, and we also talked to the Boston folks," Mr. Saba said.

"With our medical staff, the Boston folks were very interested and we decided that we'd pursue the relationship with Boston. We just wanted to put it all together and grow it even further and the Boston folks said, `Let's work together.' That's how it all came to be."

Mr. Saba said Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women's, who both have a long-term relationship with each other in sharing their medical expertise and services, would not have looked to Central Massachusetts and the Greater Metrowest region were it not for a good track record at Milford Regional.

"They felt we had a very strong hospital here, an excellent medical staff, great nursing and a very good cancer program, and they looked forward to partnering with us," Mr. Saba said.

This collaboration will be administered by:

- Dana- Farber will oversee medical oncology (chemotherapy). The doctors who will run the medical oncology dept. will be employed by Dana-Farber, which will also include Milford's current oncology physicians, Drs. Mona Kaddis and Michael Constantine.

Dr. Saba said Milford's staff nurses will also be in this medical oncology suite.

"They'll still be employed by Milford, but Dana-Farber will be leasing them back from us, so that the whole program more or less becomes a Dana-Farber program, with some leased employees (nurses) and some employees (the physicians)," he said.

- Brigham and Women's will manage radiation oncology. Most of those employees will be employed by Brigham and Women's while working here in Milford, Mr. Saba explained.

- Milford Regional will provide diagnostic imaging (including CT, PET CT, MRI and X-ray) and laboratory testing.

"We'll also have a pharmacy and some other smaller services that are important to all of those programs," Mr. Saba said.

Overall, about 40 people (23 in the medical oncology and radiation therapy area) will work in the new cancer center, according to Terri McDonald, director of public relations for Milford Regional.

She noted the three-way partnership is the first for an independent hospital not affiliated within the Partners HealthCare System that include Faulkner Hospital and Harvard Medical School as well as Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women's.

"It's very important that they chose to work with us," Mr. Saba said. "We feel very honored and excited that those Boston hospitals feel that this is such a strong community hospital. It certainly benefits our community ... and it's kind of nice in being the first. But in being the first, we'll also have some kinks to work out. But so far, it's going very, very well."

According to Dr. Edward J. Benz, president and CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, "In Milford Regional and the oncology group, there were a perfect fit in just about every respect. First, we wanted to be with people who were enthusiastic about partnering with us. In other words, we did not want to go into a community and compete with the local hospital or local oncology groups. We wanted groups that really embraced the idea of joining with us in creating a footprint in the region.

"Second, We wanted people for whom we had a very high level of comfort about the quality of care and the alignment of their sense of mission with ours. And that's very true of all of the physician groups that we're working with there and with the hospital.

"Third, we were looking for areas where we anticipate there would be an increase growth the population and demand for cancer services. We know we can't absorb people into the Longwood area (in Boston) forever. Sooner or later, we'll run out of space and parking capacity. So want to be in areas where there would be demand for cancer services.

"And we wanted to partner with hospital and physician groups that also align with the Brigham's strategy, because of our partnership with them. That's very important in practical ways, such as in cancer surgery," Dr. Benz said.

According to Dr. Gary L. Gottlieb, president of Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, "We look for an entity that shares our values and our mission. And Milford Regional couldn't be a more perfect partner from that perspective - an entity that's focused on quality and a superb medical staff that is also focused on the charitable mission of caring for its community.

"It (Milford) wants to figure out how to design programs that both can embrace the state of the art of care and bring all of the accoutrements of a community environment, as well as the convenience of a community locale," he said.

Mr. Saba credited his medical staff for laying the foundation for this partnership.

"In order for this to happen we've had to build up our services. Once we built the surgery center (in 2004), the two program priorities that we focused on were cancer and heart disease. And this year, we really put a lot of emphasis on diagnostic services.

"We realize that we're a community hospital. But we also want to be sure we can diagnose an individual's medical problem as precisely and accurately as we can. So we pour a lot of money into cardiology, cardiac catheterization, imaging, lab and pulmonary services.

"And as excited as the community is, the people who have worked here for years and have devoted their lives - doctors and nurses who have taken care of cancer patients - they're just as excited to have this new expanded program from Boston. Without their great work, this partnership would not have happened," Mr. Saba said.

At the new cancer center, patients will benefit from access to advanced chemotherapy and radiation services; participation in Dana-Farber's clinical trials; cancer education courses; support groups and more.

The center will also have private infusion stations that will comprise most of the second floor as well as a Healing Garden that will be in a corner of the cancer center's landscape.

While the new cancer center has received unanimous approval from the medical and public communities, Milford Regional is about to expand again - with a diagnostic cardiac catheterization laboratory.

Mr. Saba said the lab will be built within the hospital campus in January, and it's expected to open in early summer.


CUTLINE: (1) Edward J. Kelly, executive vice president, left, and Francis M. Saba, president and CEO of Milford Regional Medical Center, hold a drawing of the new Dana Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center last December. (2) A drawing of the new cancer center at Milford Regional which will open in January.

PHOTOG: (1) T&G staff photo (2) Photo courtesy of Milford Regional
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Title Annotation:HEALTH/HOSPITAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 24, 2007
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