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New cancer clinic makes chemotherapy more comfortable for patients

POSTED: September 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Edward Moon gets to watch a personal television while receiving treatment Monday inside the Longstreet Clinic Cancer Center's new facility.

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Nobody wants to go through chemotherapy. But when it’s necessary, the Longstreet Clinic is trying to make the experience as pleasant as possible.

On Monday, Longstreet’s Cancer Center began operating in a new space on the third floor of the 725 Jesse Jewell Parkway building.

The $1.2 million project gives the department about 13,000 square feet of floor space, compared to about 8,000 previously. There are 29 chemotherapy chairs, compared to just 13 before.

"We’ve done away with wait time," said Dr. Charles Nash, a medical oncologist at Longstreet. "It used to be that our schedule was limited by the number of chairs we had available to treat people in."

But for patients, it’s quality that counts, not quantity. Edward Moon of Gainesville has been receiving weekly chemo treatments at Longstreet’s previous Cancer Center, and on Monday he was able to compare the two facilities.

"The chairs are more comfortable," he said. "There’s more room to move around if you need to get up. But it’s more private, too. In the old place, you had people sitting right across from you."

The new chemotherapy room has partitions between each chair, and each chair has its own flat-screen TV, equipped with headphones for the patient.

"Before, it was one TV for every two chairs," said oncology nurse Sandi Barrett. "And we didn’t have headphones, so they had to watch it on closed captioning."

Barrett, who worked at the previous facility for four years, said what she enjoys most about the new chemo room is the lighting.

"We used to have just very small, slender windows," she said. "(Now) being able to look outside takes patients’ minds off their chemo."

Longstreet officials conducted focus groups with staff and patients and incorporated many of their suggestions into the design.

One detail maybe not obvious to the casual observer is the room temperature.

"It’s constant. It’s not fluctuating all the time, so the patients are more comfortable," said Barrett. "I haven’t had many patients call for blankets today."

Oncologist Dr. Richard LoCicero said the goal was to make treatment more tolerable for patients. "The idea was to make it kind of cozy, not as sterile," he said.

Another feature that patients asked for was a small classroom for patient education.

"We try to have every patient and their family go through ‘Chemotherapy 101’ (an orientation session) when they’re diagnosed," said oncology department manager Chastity Nix. "We weren’t always able to do that before because we had to share a classroom with other Longstreet departments. Now that we have our own space, we can offer Chemo 101 twice a week."

The Longstreet Cancer Center treated about 3,600 patients last year, and the number continues to increase.

Nix said in the previous space, they couldn’t handle more than 30 chemo patients per day. Now, there’s plenty of room for growth.

They will also be able to add two more oncologists when the need arises. Currently, the center has four doctors and two nurse practitioners.

Nix said employees from all of Longstreet’s departments volunteered their time Friday night and Saturday to help move equipment and supplies into the new cancer center.

She said people are thrilled with the facility’s look, crafted by Jennifer Lorenzo of the Atlanta-based Warner Summers design firm.

"(Lorenzo) wanted to incorporate outdoor elements inside, and emphasize the healing effects of water," Nix said.

As people enter the department, they see and hear a "waterfall" to the left of the elevator. They proceed into the waiting room, where an entire wall is made up of windows, and wing-like sculptures hang from the soaring ceiling.

When patients go into the chemo area, they notice an undulating blue pattern on the ceiling that mimics a flowing river.

Nash said the point of these details isn’t just to make the building look nice.

"Environment is quite important to patient comfort," he said. "Sometimes if you reduce the anxiety of chemo, you can reduce the side effects. This is a wonderful setting, and patients really seem to like it."



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