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Lawrence + Memorial opens cancer center

WATERFORD — Fifteen months after ground was broken, the new Lawrence + Memorial Cancer Center celebrated its grand opening Wednesday afternoon before an enthusiastic crowd of 400.

“Welcome to one of the most important events in the 101 year history of the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, the opening of our world class, state-of-the-art cancer center,” said William A. Stanley, vice president of development and community relations for the hospital. The proclamation was met with cheers.

“The gifted professionals from Dana-Farber, from Yale and from our own Lawrence + Memorial Hospital will team to provide world class cancer treatment right here, in southeastern Connecticut,” Stanley said. He noted that Connecticut had one of the highest cancer rates in the nation, and the southeastern corner had the highest rate in the state. The hospital is serving the needs of the community, he said.

The two-story, 47,000-square-foot building sits on a 100-acre site at 230 Waterford Parkway South, near the Cross Roads Exit on Interstate 95. Technically, it’s not scheduled to open until Oct. 1, allowing time for punch list items to be completed and the computerized equipment to get online.

Ulysses Hammond, chairman of the L&M board of directors, succinctly summed up the mood of many in attendance: “Is this awesome or what? This is a great day,” he said. “We no longer have to travel to Boston or New York, Baltimore, Cleveland; we can come right here and get world class comprehensive care. It just doesn’t get any better than this,” he added.

The facility is divided into two sections, medical oncology, which will be handled by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and radiation oncology, which will be handled by Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The facility and its new furnishings were designed for the comfort of patients and their families. A group of about 77 clinicians and cancer survivors met with the architect and staff over three days to decide how the center should be built to provide the best cancer care.

Chemotherapy chairs are heated, dealing with a common complaint from patients who are prone to feeling cold during treatment. Patients have the choice of a private room or a common room while being treated. The final design was completed by TRO JB, an international architectural firm headquartered in Boston, and built by Suffolk Construction, also based in Boston.

Many of the chemotherapy rooms face south, with a beautiful view of nearby woods. Outside is a healing garden, a natural retreat for patients and their family.

“Having an environment that is warm and welcoming and supportive makes a huge difference in their journey through cancer care,” said Lawrence N. Shulman, president for medical affairs at Dana-Farber. “The people who designed this have all of our gratitude for doing a great job.”

This is the first affiliation in the state for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which in the last few years has expanded beyond Boston. With this affiliation, patients will get access to clinical trials and perhaps to new drug therapies. Those who require treatment for cancer and blood disorders can now receive treatment for both.

“This means that without a patient needing to take any action, top experts in Boston can collaborate on the best strategy for the patient’s care with the medical team here, in Connecticut,” Shulman said. Treatment for outpatient radiation, chemotherapy, blood transfusions and other services will be available.

On site there will be genetic councilors, second opinion clinics, social workers, dietitians and pharmacists, all in one convenient location. Once open, all of the hospital’s cancer treatment staff members and equipment will be moved to the new building.

“Every brick, every outlet, every window, every hallway, every piece of wall art has been sweat over and again,” said Suzanne B. Evans, director of radiation oncology.

By the numbers, the construction required blasting 18,534 tons of rock, pouring 2,500 cubic tons of concrete, planting 53 trees, 712 shrubs and five types of grass. It required 93,000 bricks, 200 doors and 22 geothermal wells.

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