Waterford — The $34.5 million cancer center that Lawrence & Memorial Hospital is building in affiliation with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute will bring together under one roof a broader array of outpatient cancer care services than are currently available at different locations in the community.
"There is something exciting about the prospect of cancer patients in our community — friends, neighbors, colleagues, loved ones — having access to world-class cancer care in southeastern Connecticut," Ulysses Hammond, chairman of the L&M board of directors, said during a groundbreaking ceremony and reception Thursday.
The 48,000-square-foot building on a 100-acre site off Parkway South and Interstate 95's Exit 81 is scheduled to open in the fall of 2013. About 10 acres of the site has been cleared of trees and readied for blasting next week in preparation for the start of construction.
"For me personally, this is one of the highlights of my career," said Bruce Cummings, L&M president and chief executive officer since 2005.
The need for more comprehensive cancer care services locally was identified by many physicians and others he met with soon after he came to L&M, Cummings said. It complements efforts to focus on "the big four" illnesses that affect southeastern Connecticut — cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Patients of the new center, which will provide treatment for a broad range of adult cancers, will be able to receive services "in the community, without the fatigue and stress of travel," Cummings said.
This will be the first affiliation in the state for Dana-Farber, which in the last few years has been expanding beyond its Boston location with satellites and affiliations with Massachusetts hospitals and a satellite location in New Hampshire, said Dr. Andrew Norden, medical director of satellites and network affiliates for Dana-Farber.
"We see ourselves as wanting to be the pre-eminent cancer care center in New England," he said.
It was easy, Norden said, to reach an agreement with L&M and Oncology and Hematology Associates, the New London-based practice that will move into the new building and become part of Dana-Farber, because all three shared a common vision.
Patients will come to the new center for regular appointments with oncologists, as well as for outpatient radiation, chemotherapy, blood transfusions and other services. Patients also will meet there with visiting Dana-Farber specialists for second opinions, participate in clinical trials and receive care for notoriously hard-to-treat cancers that previously would have required travel to Boston or New Haven. The center also will provide genetic counseling, sessions with social workers, nutritional support and other services.
Dr. Richard Hellman of Oncology and Hematology Associates said that already, his practice refers 75 to 100 patients per year to Dana-Farber in Boston for second opinions or for care that isn't available locally. Local patients currently receive chemotherapy at private physicians' offices and radiation therapy at L&M. Inpatient surgical procedures for cancer patients will still take place at the main L&M campus in New London.
"For patients who need radiation and chemotherapy on the same day, this concept of therapy will be much easier for the patient," Hellman said. "With all the Dana-Farber expertise and research and all the supportive services that will be available, this will be the preferred place for cancer care."
One of the most interesting facets of the new building, he said, will be its design. A group of about 75 clinicians, patient advocates and cancer survivors met with the architect over five days to brainstorm how the center should be built to provide the best cancer care.
"The cancer survivors wanted to make sure we had a warm and healing environment," Hellman said. "That message came through loud and clear."
Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said that although the building will not pay property taxes because L&M is a nonprofit, the town will benefit by receiving PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) funds from the state. The site, part of a former farm, has been vacant and on the market for many years, he said.
"It'll be a hub for a lot of other facilities," Steward said, adding that he hopes it will make adjacent properties attractive to proposals for hotels, restaurants and other new businesses. "It could spark other development."