Published February 19. 2013 4:00AM
Waterford - Just eight months after breaking ground, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital's largest capital project in at least 20 years is halfway to becoming a major new addition to the region's cancer care offerings.
Today, the 50,000-square-foot, $34.5 million building is a beehive of more than 60 electrical, framing and mechanical workers creating the spaces for chemotherapy infusion, linear accelerators, oncologists' offices, patient support group and resource rooms and the geothermal heating and cooling system, among other areas. It is being built on a 100-area site off Parkway South near exit 81, with about 40 acres of the site being left for woodlands, a half-mile walking trail to a wetlands area and a healing garden.
"There will be a lot of natural light, because having views of nature was important to the patients," said Pam Mace, project manager with TRO Jung/Brannen, the architectural firm for the building, pointing toward a large opening in an outer wall reserved for one of the picture windows. "This will be a very patient-focused facility."
To design the building, L+M brought together eight former cancer patients, doctors, clinicians and others for a three-day brainstorming session, then turned the results over to the architect. The purpose was to create a space for cancer care that conveys a positive, nonsterile atmosphere for the patients and families and the doctors, nurses and other staff who will work there, said Crista Durand, vice president of strategic planning at L+M.
"The majority of the patients' decisions were incorporated into the design," she said.
One of the patients' suggestions, for example, was to have an open central staircase connecting the three floors as well as an elevator, so patients would be able to take the stairs in full view of the main areas of activity as their treatment progressed and they began feeling stronger.
"Patients wanted to feel like they were moving forward," Durand said.
The building is being funded entirely through contributions, and the hospital has raised half of what it needs with the first phase of its capital campaign, said Mike O'Farrell, L+M spokesman. By next summer it expects to begin a communitywide appeal to raise the remainder, he said. The project is the hospital's largest since the early 1990s, when it built two new wings, including the existing 8,000-square-foot cancer center, and renovated a third area, at a cost of about $45.6 million.
In addition to the money raised for the new cancer center, community support and involvement in the project is also in evidence on one of the steel beams that form the building's frame. This fall, the beam was placed in the lobby of the main hospital, and visitors, patients and staff were invited to sign it with black Sharpie markers.
"We thought it would be there for a week, but within about 2½ days it was filled," said O'Farrell, looking up at the beam, now part of the new building, covered with the signatures of "Elena," "Alex," "Marilyn," "Sylvia" and dozens of others.
Brenda Bullied, project manager for L+M, said the building, at more than six times the size of the Community Cancer Center located within the main hospital, will offer all cancer care services under one roof, from treatment to nutrition counseling to routine follow-up appointments. In addition to the cancer center at the main hospital, there are other cancer services dispersed in various offices throughout the community that will be relocated into the new center.
"A patient will be able to come here and see their physician, have their labs done and have a treatment all in one day," she said.
Only outpatient services will be available at the new center, with cancer surgery and limited radiation and chemotherapy treatment capacity remaining at the main hospital.
Because of its affiliation with the Boston-based Dana-Farber Cancer Institute - the first such arrangement in Connecticut for Dana-Farber - the new center will be able to offer services not available in the region, O'Farrell said. These include second-opinion consultation clinics, the chance to enroll in advanced clinical trials and genetic counseling. By providing an attractive, one-stop center for cancer care, L+M is hoping more patients will stay locally for their treatment.
By 2014, O'Farrell said, it is expected to provide 9,750 chemotherapy and 11,000 radiation oncology treatments and 15,000 physician appointments per year, a modest increase over the number of patients going to L+M for their cancer care. About half of all patients need both chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Though the opening of the building is still months away, L+M staff have started planning how they will mark the occasion.
Lawrence + Memorial Hospital has earned STAR Program Certification from the Massachusetts-based Oncology Rehab Partners, experts in the field of survivorship care, the hospital announced Monday.
The certification means that L+M offers its patients excellent cancer rehabilitation services, the hospital said in a news release.
STAR Program Certification qualifies L+M to offer premium oncology rehabilitation services to survivors who suffer from debilitating side effects caused by treatments. To receive its certification, L+M executed Oncology Rehab Partner's model of oncology rehabilitation service delivery, successfully implementing the program's evaluation and treatment protocols and rehabilitation training, the hospital said. These services are covered by health insurance providers and will be offered to patients by a knowledgeable medical staff specially trained to work with survivors of all forms of cancer.
"Combined with the opening of our new cancer center later this year, this is another step we are taking to provide the best possible care to our patients," Bruce Cummings, president and chief executive officer of L+M, said.