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When Patti Smith-Allen, BSN, RN, tells people she’s a nurse in an Oncology unit, a silence often follows. “Some people think it’s a sad or difficult place to work,” she said. But Smith-Allen tells them the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center gives cancer patients hope.
“We can do things here that can’t be done anywhere else because of who we are,” said Smith-Allen.
Oncology patients have been receiving this excellent care for the last 10 years. In 1997, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and BWH began a vanguard partnership to push innovation in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer farther and faster than ever before.
On Feb. 15, 1997, the first 13 patients were moved from Dana-Farber to BWH, and nine months later, many of BWH’s outpatient cancer services were transferred to the Dana building. Since then, all inpatient cancer care for adults is delivered at BWH and most outpatient services at DFCI.
Elvi Rigby, RN, then nurse manager of BWH Hematology/Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant, praised the merger, calling it the beginning of a new era in oncology care.
“We have been given an opportunity to create a model of care that will set the standard for not only Boston and the country, but for the whole world,” she said at the 1997 ribbon-cutting. “It is the passion for our patients that has united us, that forged collaboration out of competition, creating a synergy that is boundless. We can be proud of the legacy we are creating in honor of the very courageous and special patients that continually inspire us to press on.”
That’s just what physicians, nurses and other staff of the DF/BWCC have done over the last decade. The two institutions have worked to complement and coordinate medical oncology, surgical oncology, nursing, pharmacy, psychiatry, pain and palliative care, infusion, radiation oncology, transfusion, nutrition and other cancer support services in 12 specialized disease centers.
“It takes a lot of work, trust and cooperation to make the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center function as one center,” said Michael Zinner, MD, BWH’s surgeon in-chief and clinical director of the DF/BWCC. “Thanks to the strong leadership of (BWH President) Gary Gottlieb, (DFCI President) Ed Benz and others, we are truly unified with a common vision to deliver the best in care to our cancer patients.”
Dana-Farber President Emeritus David Nathan, MD, who led the institute from 1995 to 2000, said that the partnership represents the kind of collaboration that can happen when institutions put patients and families first. “I had felt, for many years before I became president, that cancer centers should maintain their beds in excellent general hospitals so that all the bells and whistles of modern medicine can support the oncology patients,” he said.
Since coming together, the DF/BWCC has honed in on some of the challenges of navigating two institutions. Last year, one toll-free number was established for potential patients and families, as well as referring physicians, to inquire about services or request an appointment. In 2005, the center hired two patient navigators to reduce disparities in health care by assisting women who have not pursued follow-up treatment.
The high-quality care available at the DF/BWCC has expanded, as centers opened last year at Faulkner Hospital and Milford Regional Hospital. “Together with Dana-Farber, Milford, Faulkner and our community partners, we are making our world-class cancer care available to more patients and their families,” BWH President Gary Gottlieb, MD, MBA, said of the partnerships.
Today, the DF/BWCC continues its quest to make every aspect of a patient’s cancer treatment better.
Learn more about the past, present and future of the DF/BWCC at an anniversary celebration Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. in the Jimmy Fund Auditorium.