In 2010, the board of Camden’s Cooper University Hospital embarked on a plan to partner with a leading cancer care facility to advance their existing cancer treatment program. The end result? A 2013 partnership with the country’s top-ranked hospital, the Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center.
This dynamic relationship has brought state-of-the-art technologies, improved clinical research and testing, along with high-level cancer care to South Jersey residents. “It was a long process that was conceived several years before the partnership was formed,” explains Adrienne Kirby, President and CEO of Cooper University Health Care. “We wanted to find a strong national name in cancer and form a very close, tight partnership that would impact the way care is delivered.”
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Patients at MD Anderson Cooper get the benefit of working with the best doctors in the country and receive exceptional, specialized care. “We have MD Anderson physicians here every month overseeing our treatment protocols and the IT systems we are using in our cancer program, so there’s a great sharing of information,” says Kirby. “Slides and biopsies are shared with pathology in Houston, so there is a lot of overlap between the care you would get at MD Anderson Houston and what we’re providing.”
In July, the cancer care center opened a 30-bed, private-room inpatient unit, making Cooper the only hospital in South Jersey with a dedicated inpatient oncology unit. The new oncology floor is full of certified nurses, social workers and a nutritionist– each specializing in cancer care. “There is a lot of designated support,” adds Kirby. “Our oncology house list has a doctor that is present on the floor along with medical oncology fellows, so it’s a great hands-on physician experience for the patients.”
The unit itself accommodates both the patients and their families, by design. Each spacious room has a separate area equipped with a couch and small television for family members to rest without disturbing their loved one. The floor also has a modern, relaxing waiting room for visitors featuring a fireplace, kitchenette and complimentary Wi-Fi access.
Thought in Every Detail
Even the small design details on the pavilion’s fifth-floor oncology unit have significant meaning. “The daffodil is the symbol of hope for cancer patients, so we decided to do a mural with a daffodil in the patient’s room. As you go onto the floor, we have peaceful murals of flowers in all different sizes and scale. Patients love it, and family members love it. You just don’t feel like you’re at a hospital,” shares Kirby.
“One of the things I think we do well is our staff is very attentive, not only to the patient but also to the family dealing with the impact of a cancer diagnosis. The caring and compassion extend to the family as well. Our entire staff treats the whole family,” adds Christine Winn, Senior Vice President, at MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper. “I think the unit is a wonderful example of the multidisciplinary nature of how MD Anderson has had an effect in our care.”
Another result of the successful alliance has been an increase in cancer patient treatment. “Our growth has been amazing. We’ve grown over 20% across the board if you look at the volume of patients that we’re seeing. It’s not only the sheer number of patients; we’re drawing patients from all over,” says Kirby. “We see people coming from further distances than we ever drew before. We think it’s a testament to the quality of care and the service.”
With future growth in mind, including a bone marrow transplant unit, MD Anderson Cooper is also focusing on preventive care. “One of the things that we’re doing is looking at ways that we can reach the community to talk; about HPV vaccines, colonoscopies, routine mammograms and making sure patients and potential patients are taking care of themselves,” says Winn. “The more patients can detect early and screen themselves, the better we are as a society and as a community. Our efforts are focused on being here for people who need us; and also trying to make sure that people know how not to need us.”
The dedicated hard work of the MD Anderson Cooper staff has clearly proven invaluable to their patients. “We would definitely recommend MD Anderson Cooper to family and friends,” says Laurie Handzlik; whose son Joshua was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 17. “The reason we drove Josh from Bucks County, PA to New Jersey for appointments and treatments is because we knew that the Sarcoma Team and Tumor Board in New Jersey were reviewing Josh’s condition and protocol with their colleagues in Houston. We already knew that MD Anderson was a top-notch hospital for cancer treatment and outcomes; so we were confident that Josh would receive the latest and best treatment protocol available.”
Of course, that trust means a great deal to the entire staff at MD Anderson Cooper, says Kirby. “Our patients are happy, and they feel connected to the team. It feels very positive and good to know that you are providing this level of care in your community. I think we have a very successful formula.”
Hero (Top) Feature Image (& Additional Images): © MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper / Cooper University Health Care