It’s been about two years in the making, but Sutter Coast Hospital now has a dedicated treatment center for Del Norte and Curry County cancer patients.

The hospital’s new infusion center will serve four to five patients when it opens its doors for the first time on Monday, said infusion center Manager Jeannine Williams-Bernard. This, she said, will enable the center’s staff to take care of any opening glitches that may come up.

Once it’s fully operational, the infusion center will be able care for nine patients at a time, said Ellie Popadic, the hospital’s director of ancillary services and business development.

“It’s a calming tranquil location,” Popadic said.

Meanwhile, the hospital has taken its first step toward developing a comprehensive cancer care program, Williams-Bernard said Thursday. A credential imparted by the American College of Surgeons, being a comprehensive cancer center means the director is board certified in his or her specialty, Williams-Bernard said. It’s a credential typically found at hospitals in larger communities, she said.

“To the consumer it would mean they would have the confidence that they’re going to a place for their care that meets national standards,” Williams-Bernard said, adding the process takes about three years. “For employees, to me, it makes it a more desirable place to work in terms of knowing that you’re caring for people properly. For providers, it’s just kind of a benchmark standard everyone would want to reach.”

Sutter Coast Hospital began offering oncology services about a year ago, Popadic said. It hired oncologist Dr. Richard Adrouny roughly six months before that.

However, according to Rose Corcoran, the hospital’s chief nurse executive, infusion patients were treated in the same-day surgery area. They were treated in chairs that allowed them to recline, but having a dedicated space specifically for infusion treatments will be a quieter environment for patients, Corcoran said.

The infusion center will also offer treatment for gastrointestinal issues as well as antibiotic infusions, Corcoran and Williams-Bernard said.

According to Popadic, from design to completion it took more than two years for the hospital to build its new infusion center.

Sutter Coast had heard from physicians in the community who said their patients were traveling to Medford and Eureka for treatment, Corcoran said.

Curry County patients were traveling to Coos Bay for their cancer treatments, Williams-Bernard said.

“These are patients that do not feel like traveling,” she said. “Also, a nice benefit, is Dr. Adrouny will be able to see patients at our clinic (in Brookings) as well and if their treatment allows for injections they’ll also have that service there and not have to make the 30-minute trip down here.”

Although becoming a comprehensive cancer care center is a multi-disciplinary approach, including radiology, pathology, primary care and palliative care, the hospital will step up its community outreach, Popadic said. This includes providing education for community members and physicians on early screening options, she said.

Williams-Bernard also noted that Del Norte County has a higher than expected rate of certain cancers and will be offering community services focused on those.

According to Adrouny, Del Norte County has fourth highest adjusted death rate of all the counties in California. Del Norte ranks 41 out of the state’s 58 counties with 58 being the worst, in age-adjusted death rates from cancer, Adrouny said.

Citing the California Department of Public Health, Adrouny said Del Norte County ranks 40 out of 58 counties in deaths related to colon cancer. For deaths related to lung cancer, the county ranks 49 out of 58 counties, he said. Del Norte ranks 52 out of 58 counties in deaths related to prostate cancer, Adrouny said.

Liver disease and liver cancer is also prevalent in Del Norte County, Adrouny said. He said other physicians in the community have reported to him that they have a high number of patients they’re treating for liver disease or primary liver cancer.

“There’s a lot of people with liver cirrhosis for one reason or another, chronic liver disease, either because of alcoholism or because of Hepatitis C and much less commonly because of fatty liver,” he said. “There seems to be just a rampant amount of that around here and a lot of diagnoses of hepatocellular carcinoma, which is basically liver cancer.”

Receiving a comprehensive cancer center designation through the American College of Surgeons will enable the hospital to focus on early detection and screening as well as community awareness, Adrouny said. He noted that the hospital wants to work with various home health agencies, the American Cancer Society, state and local entities to discuss the best way to reach out to the community.

“Hopefully with the infusion center and the development of cancer services here we can become sort of a beacon in the community to try to address those issues as best we can,” Adrouny said.

The new Sutter Coast Infusion Center is at 780 E. Washington Blvd., Crescent City. For more information, call 707-464-8946 or visit suttercoast.org.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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