WESTERLY — The transformation of Westerly Hospital from bankruptcy in 2011 to significant expansion of services continued Monday with the ceremonial opening of its new Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center, the second new unit to open at the hospital in as many months.
"A resurgence is happening at Westerly Hospital," said Patrick L. Green, president and chief executive officer of Yale New Haven Health, of which the hospital is an affiliate. "We made promises to this community, and now it is our patients and their families who will reap the benefits."
Speaking to an audience of doctors, nurses, other staff members and community leaders, Green said the opening represents the culmination of talks that started soon after he was named to lead the facility in 2017, about nine months after its affiliation with Yale New Haven Health.
The 6,500-square-foot Smilow facility, which will see its first patient Friday, is on the hospital’s second floor, not far from the new inpatient geriatric psychiatric unit that opened last month.
This is the first Smilow facility located in Rhode Island, and Westerly-area residents are the first in any state outside of Connecticut to have local access to the nationally recognized comprehensive expertise of Smilow Cancer Hospital, which is ranked among the top cancer-fighting networks in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The Smilow Cancer Hospital, which gave rise to development of the centers, was established at Yale New Haven in 2009.
The new Westerly unit features eight infusion rooms for chemo- and bio-therapy and seven exam rooms. The unit is laid out to ensure nurses can always observe patients as they move through the center. Pharmacists will be embedded in the unit to provide real-time consultations with patients to answer questions about their treatment and how it might interact with other medications they are taking.
"We're trying to centralize care for oncology patients. Everything a patient will need is here without having to go to another spot. It's all about the most comfortable flow of services for the patient and safety of the patient," said Mary Ann Nash, director of oncology services for Westerly and Lawrence + Memorial hospitals.
Patients will receive the same level and class of care and ability to participate in clinical trials at the new Smilow Center in Westerly as they would at any other Smilow facility, Nash said
A dietician, social worker and a financial counselor will be on site. Second opinion consultations with oncologists at Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven can be arranged when needed, and radiation oncology, when necessary, is available at the Smilow Cancer Hospital Care Center location in Waterford.
The Smilow network, which provides care and conducts clinical trials on new drugs and treatment regiments, has brought innovations in both the treatment of cancer and "how to deliver care realizing that not everybody can get to a major urban center, and it is our job to bring that kind of innovation to communities and to partner with communities," said Dr. Charles Fuchs, director of Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief at Smilow Cancer Hospital.
The ceremony in Westerly on Monday coincided with the 10-year anniversary of the first patient being treated at Smilow Cancer Hospital, Fuchs said.
Dr. Roy S. Herbst, chief of medical oncology for Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital, picked up on Fuchs' perspective.
"What good are these new therapies if we don't get them out here to the patients? People can't drive far, they need to be treated where their family and support is," Herbst said.
As plans for the Westerly center were developed Green said an early goal was to establish partnerships with local physicians. To that end he invited Dr. Robert D. Legare, an oncologist in Westerly for more than two decades, to lunch for early discussions that eventually led to development of the Smilow Center in Westerly.
Legare, who will be joined by Dr. Rebecca Vanasse-Passas, another local oncologist, in working at the center, has joined the Yale Cancer Center faculty and will be medical director in Westerly. He recalled his reaction as the idea of having a center in Westerly percolated in his mind.
"I said to myself, this is something different. This is something that really can transform what we are doing in a substantive and enduring way, and not just for this year but literally for the next hundred years," Legare said.
Stephen Greene, chairman of the Westerly Hospital board, thanked the Yale New Haven Health system for its "support and belief in this community. Most of us have believed in this area for a long time, but it's great to see some folks come in with some fresh eyes and realize the opportunity really is quite grand," Greene said.
State Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-Westerly, said the new cancer center is another example of the "hospital doing a very good job assessing the needs of the community and responding to those needs."
Smilow Cancer Hospital opened at Yale New Haven in 2009 following a substantial donation from Joel E. Smilow. Smilow centers followed later in Derby, Fairfield, Glastonbury, Greenwich, Guilford, Hamden, Hartford, North Haven, Old Saybrook, Orange, Torrington, Trumbull, Waterbury and Waterford.
The Westerly center was built out over nine months. The contractor for the project was A/Z Corp. of North Stonington. The design team was Payette of Boston, GMI of Bristol and BR+A of Boston.