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Two weeks and counting for L+M Cancer Center

Waterford - In just two weeks, two local women with cancer will have the distinction of being the first to receive treatment at a major new medical facility that is the largest project for Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in at least 20 years.

The two women, currently receiving care at the main hospital in New London, are scheduled for radiation treatment at 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. on Oct. 1, the day the new L+M Cancer Center will open for business.

Until those first patients arrive, the $34.5 million, 48,000-square-foot center is undergoing the final stages of transforming it from a sleek, handsome structure with bare work stations, empty medication shelves, never-used chemotherapy stations and a $3 million linear accelerator still being calibrated into an active treatment center. It replaces the current cancer center, an 8,000-square-foot space located at the main hospital 6½ miles away.

"We'll do workflow exercises, and dry runs next Monday and Tuesday, and create a practice medical emergency," Mary Ann Nash, L+M's program coordinator for nutrition and clinical lead on the cancer center project, said Monday, explaining how the cancer center will be readied to receive its first patients.

As she spoke, crews were busy installing telephones and computers, laboratory staff were programming equipment and Holly Lincoln, medical physicist, huddled with two oncologists over setup programs for the linear accelerator, where patients will receive radiation treatment.

Along with getting ready for patients, staff and work crews at the new center, a collaboration with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, are also preparing for a celebration of the opening scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. About 450 people, among them donors, prospective donors, L+M board members, hospital staff and community leaders, are expected to attend, said Mike O'Farrell, L+M spokesman.

"The ladders and boxes won't be around by Wednesday," O'Farrell said.

More than half of the funds needed to pay for the new building have been raised, he added. In addition to the Dana Farber affiliation, the new center will also have partnerships with Women & Infants Hospital in Providence for gynecological cancer care, and with Yale-New Haven Hospital for radiation oncology care. The center is expected to provide 9,750 chemotherapy and 11,000 radiation oncology treatments yearly, along with 15,000 physician appointments.

In recent weeks, Nash has been leading many tours of the new center for donors, prospective donors and others, and more tours will be offered Wednesday. On a tour Monday, Nash pointed out the many patient-inspired features of the new center, from the many large windows that look out over the wooded area behind the 100-acre site on Parkway South, to spacious patient changing areas to the La-Z-Boy infusion chairs with heat and massage features.

She walked past waiting rooms where patients and families will soon occupy the never-used upholstered chairs and couches and flick on the new flat-screen TVs, special rooms for bone marrow tests and orthovoltage machines - for treatment of certain types of skin cancer - and offices where second-opinion clinics and clinical trials on new treatments will be conducted.

"We'll be fully electronic from Day 1, with electronic medical records, nearly paperless," Nash said.

A panel of former cancer patients and clinicians brainstormed how they wanted the new building to look and feel, and architects designed the plans accordingly, Nash said. Along with treatment facilities, the center, conceived as a one-stop shop for cancer care, will also house offices for financial counselors, social workers, reading rooms and a "quiet room" for meditation - included instead of a chapel at the suggestion of the patient panel.

"The building already feels like it has a pulse," Nash said.


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