SOMC Launches $18 Million Cancer Center Expansion in Manahawkin

Meridian Stresses Advantage of Near Home Treatment
By RICK MELLERUP | Sep 02, 2015
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Southern Ocean Medical Center in Stafford Township launched a major expansion and renovation of its cancer care facilities last Wednesday evening.

The hospital’s parent organization, Meridian Health, is investing $128 million to bring a higher level of cancer care close to home, with enhanced services in Ocean and Monmouth counties.

“The massive project builds upon well established and trusted cancer services already offered through Meridian Cancer Care,” states a Meridian press release. “It will provide patients with better access through six expansion projects that will blend clinical expertise with an optimal patient and family experience.”

“Residents have come to trust our experienced physicians and compassionate support team, particularly in the area of cancer care,” said Joseph Coyle, president of Southern Ocean Medical Center. “Today marks the next step in the evolution of cancer care here in Manahawkin. Beyond the physical transformation that will take place with new treatment areas, clinical space and technology, the way in which we will enhance patient care is perhaps the most exciting part of the project.”

SOMC’s expansion will feature a 16,545 square foot addition. For some perspective, the emergency department expansion at the hospital, completed in 2013, added 20,700 square feet to the ER area.

The centerpiece of the expansion will be a TrueBeam linear accelerator, what Meridian calls the “most advanced radiation technology available.” It is an image-guided radiation therapy system used to treat cancer with speed and accuracy, while avoiding healthy tissues and organs. The system rotates around the body to deliver radiation therapy from almost any angle. It provides real-time imaging, which allows the physician to direct doses of radiation with greater accuracy.

“This is really a very exciting milestone,” said Dr. Mark Krasna, medical director for Meridian Cancer Care. He said the medical center expansion, along with similar projects at Meridian Cancer Care at Jackson Health Village, Riverview Medical Center, Bayshore Community Hospital, Ocean Medical Center, and Jersey Shore University Medical Center “are going to change the face of cancer care at six locations in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Krasna said the new accelerator would be state of the art.

“Once that is in place, there’s really nothing that can’t be done here that can be done elsewhere.”

The new center will also feature 20 brand new chemotherapy infusion stations, set in a comfortable healing environment; a multi-disciplinary oncology suite for evaluation by a team of cancer physicians in one visit; and specialty physician consultation offices. It will offer conference and family supportive care resources and expanded Nurse Navigator services to help guide patients through every step of their care.

Tom Dolan, chair of the SOMC Foundation Board of Trustees, said the entire SOMC project would cost $18 million, of which the foundation will attempt to raise $12.5 million. The four auxiliaries of Southern Ocean Medical Center – Boosters, Holly, Laurel and SOCH – which run the hospital gift shop and thrift shops in Waretown, Manahawkin and Tuckerton, already pledged $2.5 million in July for the accelerator. The 600-plus volunteers of the auxiliaries have proven their fundraising prowess; most recently, they raised $3 million for the Emergency Department expansion.

Meridian Health is already proud of its cancer care services.

According to the American Hospital Association, there were 5,686 hospitals of all kinds (not-for profit, for-profit, state, local and federal, etc.) in the United States in 2014. But according to the American Cancer Society, nearly 71 percent of newly diagnosed cancer patients in the country are treated at approximately 1,400 hospitals accredited by the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons.

“Receiving care at a CoC-accredited cancer program hospital or facility ensures you high-quality, comprehensive care from teams of specialists who can coordinate the best treatment options available for you,” said the American Cancer Society.

The CoC has accredited all Meridian Health affiliated hospitals, including SOMC.

There is, however, an even higher designation for hospitals dealing with cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 65 cancer centers across the country have earned the right to call themselves a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center. NCI cancer centers, which are involved in research as well as treatment, are the top of the line, institutions associated with major universities or are well-known centers and institutes such as the Mayo Clinic or the Salk Institute. Then there’s the highest honor of all, being designated an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, of which there are only 45 in the entire country.

Not surprisingly, NCI cancer centers earn high marks when organizations such as U.S. News and World Report rate cancer hospitals. Several of the highest ranked cancer hospitals, in the top 30 in the U.S. News story, are located in New York City or Philadelphia – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Hospitals of the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian, New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, Fox Chase Cancer Center and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

So why would a cancer patient visit a Meridian hospital instead of traveling to NYC or Philly?

Well, insurance coverage could be a factor. But there’s another reason why some patients might not consider the Big Apple or the City of Brotherly Love. Getting in and out of New York and Philadelphia can be a pain, even when a person isn’t dealing with chemo or radiation. Patients have to get rides; family members and friends have to spend long hours providing transportation and companionship.

That’s why Meridian is responding by stressing the benefits of local cancer care.

Delores Lisznaski is a believer in close-to-home care, and she told the crowd at the expansion kickoff ceremony about its advantages.

In October 2014, she said, a colonoscopy revealed a lesion on her colon. That led to testing, which indicated she had Stage 3 colon cancer. She had surgery at SOMC (which she, like so many Southern Ocean County residents, still calls SOCH).

“I really believe I got it all,” her surgeon told her, and she believed him, joking, “He took a foot of my colon – I lost five pounds.”

Chemo followed – she said she’s had seven sessions and will have five more. She raved about the personalized care she’s received at SOMC.

“The people here in the cancer center, they make me feel I’m the only one (patient) there,” said Lisznaski. “Most people I know from here (the area) travel to Philadelphia or Robert Wood Johnson in North Jersey, or go into New York City. I live in Waretown; it’s five miles from here. There is no stress on my family, my friends. I can come here and sit in the waiting room going, ‘What do I need at Costco?’ I can fit treatment into my schedule.

“We’re really in the middle of nowhere,” she laughed. “We don’t have a Macy’s or an Outback. We don’t even have a Christmas center. But we have a cancer center.”

“The goal of Meridian Cancer Care,” Krasna says, “is to provide, I would say, over 90 percent of all possible cancer treatments that are needed by a patient, at one of our facilities close to that patient’s home. There’s really little reason any longer for a patient to travel to New York or travel to Philadelphia to get cancer care. We have multi-disciplinary cancer care at Meridian. We have advanced surgical techniques, like robotic surgery. We have state of the art radiation oncology techniques, such as CyberKnife. And really, our team approach will ensure patients will be considered for all advanced therapies, including enrollment in advanced clinical research trials (thanks to the fact that Meridian is the exclusive system partner of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the Garden State’s only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center).

“Other than one or two specific areas of cancer care that we’ve chosen not to do at Meridian, really the majority of a patient’s cancer care can be taken care of at one of our Meridian facilities.”

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