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YVMC looks to expand chemotherapy center

Christine Metz

Yampa Valley Medical Center is looking for a kinder place for its chemotherapy patients and others who use its infusion treatment center to heal.

The treatment center is nothing more than a space tucked into a small corner of the emergency room. Three large, comfortable reclining chairs are set up with televisions nearby. A nurse’s workstation is beside the chairs. The room has no place for visiting friends or family. There is no privacy. Space is crunched for nurses to pass between the chairs.

“It is chaos,” said Jan Fritz, manager of Hospice for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and an oncology nurse at YVMC.

Hospital officials are hoping to change that by expanding the treatment area to three or four times its current size.

“Life is complicated enough when you are trying to deal with illnesses,” Fritz said. “Your treatment should take place within a healing environment. It has got to be relaxed.”

Infusion treatment allows patients to be given medicines intravenously. The patients receive the infusion treatments, many for hours at a time, and then go home. The majority of infusion treatments are for chemotherapy patients.

When the hospital was built, the space was adequate to serve the demand for infusion treatments in the area. In the past five years, the demand for chemotherapy has jumped dramatically, YVMC CEO Karl Gills said.

In 2001, the hospital had 424 infusion treatments. In 2004, the hospital is set to have more than 1,000.

“We have more than doubled our chemotherapy treatment volume in the last four years. That is why we are feeling the space crunch,” Gills said.

The center has long hours to accommodate patients’ work schedules and family life One-third of the patients who come for infusion therapy are from outside of Steamboat Springs. Patients come from as far away as Baggs, Wyo., Walden and Maybell.

The largest benefit of the center is that patients don’t have to travel to Denver or Grand Junction for treatment.

“Most people don’t want to have to go away for therapy. They don’t want to have to do the drive from Denver. If services are available within a drivable area, for most it is preferred,” Fritz said.

For the majority of patients, cancer can be treated without ever leaving Steamboat Springs.

The hospital started the infusion center in 1990, often tracking four to six patients, Fritz said. Twice a month Dr. Allen Kohen, an oncologist, comes from Denver to see about 50 patients in Steamboat Springs. His visits to Steamboat and the close relationship with the local pharmacy helped in growing the infusion center, Fritz said.

“That really was key during the 1990s. It helped the program grow, having an oncologist who is a specialist in the field willing to come from Denver on a regular basis,” Fritz said.

Gills predicts it will cost between $160,000 and $200,000 to expand the chemotherapy and infusion center. The hospital plans to use the last available open space in the hospital, which is now a storage area.

The expansion includes treatment for five to six patients; two will be in a private area. It also will have a large treatment area for the rest of the patients, a small waiting area and a private workstation for nurses. Two large windows look out onto open space.

Fritz said the space has to be a peaceful one with natural light; a place where private conversations can occur and television can be watched without distracting others.

“We can have something better,” Fritz said. “The people who have to have infusions have so much going on in their lives. All we want to do is create a peaceful environment.”

The YVMC Auxiliary has made a multi-year commitment to raise funds for the expansion. Funds from this year’s Yampa River Rubber Ducky Race will go toward the project. Last year the Rubber Ducky race raised $20,000.

Gills said the hospital would seek money through solicitations, privation contributions, general hospital funds and grants.


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