‘Light, light, light’: Zimmer Cancer Center gives patients what they asked for

"This is a difficult time for every patient here, so everything about this centers around the patient. It’s all about the patient.”

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The Zimmer Cancer Center at New Hanover Regional Medical Center is more than halfway done with its $14 million dollar upgrade and expansion. It opens to patients next week. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

The New Hanover Regional Medical Center Zimmer Cancer Center’s $14 million renovation and expansion will hit a major milestone on Monday, Feb. 13.

That’s the day the Zimmer Cancer Center will open to patients with 37 infusion chairs. The opening, on the center’s second floor, marks the completion of the first phase of the renovation program. After 10 months, the Center has added 22 chairs, several of them in private rooms. The project, due to be completed by Fall 2017, will more than triple the hospital’s original 15 chairs, offering a total of 48 units.

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An artist’s rendering of the lobby, designed for maximum open space and light, according to NHRMC Media Coordinator Claire Parker. (Courtesy of NHRMC)

Henry Hawthorne, administrator of the NHRMC Oncology Service Line said the project had taken special care to incorporate input from medical staff, as well as former and current patients. Among those patients was Josh Lambeth, a NHRMC Foundation board member and former Zimmer patient.

“We knew how to make the facility state of the art,” Hawthrone said. “We’ve got good equipment, great doctors. Our pharmacy facility, which is completely incorporated into the center, is already up to next year’s highest standards. What we needed to know was what our patients needed.”

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The integrated pharmacy’s on-site facility for preparing chemotherapy solutions. NHMRC Administrator Henry Hawthorne told Port City Daily, “it’s state of the art. But equally important is having the facility here in the center, where our pharmacists can do rounds. They can go and talk with our patients.”(Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Hawthorne said while the new facility updates equipment, improves accessibility and prepares the center for expanded growth in volume, patients asked for something much simpler.

“The number one thing people asked for was light, light, light.” Hawthorne said. “And natural light makes such a big difference. Our southern facing windows really warm up the whole facility in the morning. We worked, architecturally, to get as much light as possible into the space.”

Hawthorne said patients were consulted “every step of the way, from design layout to colors and finishes.”

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Henry Hawthorne speaking in the center’s second-floor treatment room, which opens to patients on Monday, Feb. 13. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Claire Parker, media relations coordinator, said patients also expressed a range of opinions on privacy, something the renovated center took into account.

“Patients have more choices in terms of having privacy when they’re getting treatments or being around friends and family and other patients,” Parker said. “Not everyone wants to be around other people, some people really need the support. And, patients feel differently on different days.”

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The patient area layout on the second floor. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

Cyrus Kotwall, medical director of the Zimmer Cancer Center, said the new facility makes patients more centrally located, which in turn makes their treatment as smooth as possible.

“It’s a better environment, there’s more space, more light,” Kotwall said. “But it’s more centralized too. Doctors have better access to the patients; that’s crucial.”

Cape Fear Cancer Specialists, located on the other side of 17th Street, will relocate its services to the renovated Zimmer Cancer Center. While driving across the street may sound like a minor inconvenience, Kotwall said it could make a big difference for patients.

“When you’re in chemotherapy treatment, you want to move around as little as possible. But also, the doctors can see more patients and spend more time with them,” he said. “This is a difficult time for every patient here, so everything about this centers around the patient. It’s all about the patient.”

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Private rooms will serve both for consultations with physicians and treatments for patients who want privacy. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)

She-ROCKS (Research Ovarian Cancer Knowledge Support), a non-profit group founded by Beth Quinn in 2014, donated $60,000 to NHRMC. The She-ROCKS donation funded the purchase of 35 infusion chairs.

Parker said the chairs have been popular – and meaningful – to patients who have tried them.

“It sounds like a little thing, but the chairs have adjustable heat and massage.  We’ve heard it over and over again, patients say they love it, not because it’s a heated massage chair, but because they have control over something. In that situation, a patient can feel powerless. We’re very grateful to Beth [Quinn] for her donation. It will mean a lot, to a lot of patients.”

The Zimmer Cancer Center provided chemotherapy and infusion treatments for more than 8,300 patients last year, without service interruptions from the renovation. NHRMC expects more patients in 2017, especially in hematology, medical oncology, chemotherapy and several other oncology fields.

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Construction on the new facade for the Zimmer Center, which will be all glass, allowing maximum natural light. (Photo by Benjamin Schachtman)