EAMC shows off new cancer center facility

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2019

OPELIKA — East Alabama Medical Center is about ready to show off its new $39.7 million, 60,000 square foot cancer center to the public.

John Atkinson, public relations and marketing director with EAMC, said Tuesday that construction ended May 15 and that the E.L. Spencer Jr. and Ruth Priester Spencer Cancer Center will begin seeing patients on June 17.

The new center is about four times larger than the current cancer center on EAMC’s Opelika Campus and will expand services in just about all areas of the specialized service.

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According to Chris Clark, EAMC vice president of clinical services, the center has capabilities for up to 36 chemotherapy chairs, 10 infusion center extension chairs, 12 medical oncology exam rooms, six radiation oncology exam rooms, a pharmacy, boutique and a chapel. 

Additionally, there are separate entrances for patients receiving radiation treatments every day, so they don’t have to walk through the main door for a 15-minute treatment. The cancer center will also have several self-check-in kiosks for patients to make the process as fluid as possible.

Through the center, there are several large windows to provide abundant sunlight and views to the landscaping outside while patients are receiving treatments.

“That is all done on purpose,” Clark said. “We don’t want people to feel like they are closed in.”

He said all of the facility is geared to look at the natural landscape behind the hospital, providing aesthetically pleasing views and a peaceful atmosphere.

To the backside of the infusion center, there are several medical clinics and physician offices, so doctors can be nearby while patients are receiving treatment. Clark said it was important to doctors to be on the same floor as their patients, so they can check up on them during the process.

On the same floor of the infusion center, there will also be a laboratory, which will cut down on the timeline for test results. There is also an infusion pharmacy on the same floor, which means there is no transference of medicine from one place in the hospital to another. Clark said the medication is delivered to the cancer center, mixed there and administered to the patient all in-house.

The cancer center also has a separate retail pharmacy on the premises, meaning patients won’t have to go elsewhere to pick up prescriptions after treatments if needed.

On the lower level of the center, there is a high-dose radiation room for patients needing internal implants. The room is closed off by a thick metal door and controlled in another room. The center also features the Varian Vitalbeam and the Varian TrueBeam linear accelerations, which perform radiation treatments.

John Farcloth, radiation oncology director  at EAMC, said the Varian Vitalbeam can track a patient’s respiratory system during treatment, and if the radiation target moves away from the range of the treatment, the radiation will stop until it moves back into range. He said this will prevent healthy cell tissue from being damaged during treatment.

The lower floor will also house a PET/CT machine, a nursing clinic, a family conference room and several classrooms for continuing education.

Dr. John Cabelka, radiation oncologist, said cancer cases have grown in the area in the past five to seven years and the medical facility has outgrown its old cancer center.

“We had very nice equipment and a great team, but the facilities were simply older and too small,” he said.

Clark said the old facility will be used to increase space for existing physicians to perform treatments.

Cabelka said being able to stay in the area while treating cancer makes life much easier.

“It’s something a lot of people don’t think about until you are diagnosed or a family member is diagnosed,” he said. “We cure more patients than we lose, so it’s a speed bump in life now, and it is not something where everything has to shut down.”

He said many people still want to keep their jobs, and many times they can continue to work. However, if a patient is several hours away from their home, keeping a job and losing the support structure of their family makes it more difficult.

Cabelka said EAMC’s new cancer is as good as anywhere in the country, so there’s no need to leave the area for treatment.

“We are at the level of any academic center,” he said. “There is no need to go anyplace else.”

The public is invited to tour the facility from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11. There will be cancer center staff on-hand to answer questions, and those participating will be able to take a self-guided tour around the facility.