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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Southern Oregon’s Medical Scene

Southern Oregon’s Medical Scene

New, exciting, innovative goings on

Story by Lynn Leissler

Photography by Ezra Marcos

 

Southern Oregon is a large area geographically, but not so when measured by population. Our cities are midsize, and a number of our surrounding communities tilt more rural than urban. Our overall worldview comprises broad diversity. We have abundant wineries, breweries, performing arts venues, and outdoor recreational opportunities second to none.

One outstanding aspect of our identity is our medical community. We shine, from small clinics to large hospitals, and have bragging rights to prestigious awards and rankings. The list is long, but we’d like to highlight two entities that offer exceptional and unique care.   

The Mary and Dick Heimann Cancer Center

Hope Has a New Home

 

Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch. July Blume

I could talk about this all day,” says Wendy Vaughn, Asante’s Clinical Director of Cancer Services, referring to the new Mary and Dick Heimann Cancer Center with its expanded services and innovative treatment options. As she spoke with passion and enthusiasm, this writer kept saying, “Wow!”

Mid-January marked the opening of Asante’s Heimann Cancer Center in Medford and the expansion of the Helen K. Spears Cancer Center in Grants Pass. “These two cancer centers are basically going to change cancer care in both Jackson and Josephine counties,” says Brian Murphy, Administrative Director of Cancer Services. “Overall, this will make it so much more convenient and efficient for our patients. Also, the technology we’re bringing in is going to greatly improve our ability to care for them.” Not all services will be available at the Spears Cancer Center, but those patients can access what they need in Medford.

Over 2,000 cancer cases were diagnosed last year in Jackson and Josephine counties, and a 20% increase is expected over the next ten years, an aging demographic being a big factor. To deal with present and future cancer patients, the new Heimann Cancer Center provides expansive services, all under one roof. Previously, patients had to travel to Portland for some treatments, although even visiting several locations in the same community can be emotionally and physically draining for someone who is sick. Now the farthest they will travel is down the hall and from one floor to the next in the same building. The setting is another asset. Chemotherapy and other treatments, often day in and day out, usually take place in a clinical setting. At the Heimann Cancer Center, infusion chairs are located on the third floor where the stunning view may help calm a patient, even lowering blood pressure.

The equipment. The technology. This is where Vaughn really got excited. The Heimann center has a TruBeam Linear accelerator and Radixact, a new version of image guided radiation therapy that strategically targets a tumor without hurting the rest of the body. It’s a precise tumor killer, not just ‘in the ballpark,’ but right where it is needed. The procedure continues until the tumor is small enough to be surgically removed, allowing a less invasive, lower risk surgery. With fast-growing tumors, the procedure can prevent spreading.

“Our patients used to have to go to Portland for PET CTs, now it’s in-house. The technology is cutting edge, because we’re talking about nuclear medicine imaging, and these isotopes are manufactured in a nuclear reactor. They split the atoms to our specifications. It’s tailored for you and can only be used for you,” Vaughn explains. The logistics of having a PET CT are crucial. If you have an 11 a.m. appointment, the dose has to be custom made that day (offsite) and transported to Medford by plane. Similar to an organ transplant, the timeframe is tight. The isotope expires within hours of its production. PET CT is a non-invasive treatment, the radioactive isotope injected through an IV. This was once the stuff of science fiction.

The logistics of the procedure are crucial. When you have an appointment, the PET has to be custom made that same day (offsite) and transported to Medford by plane. Similar to an organ transplant, the timeframe is tight, for the product expires within hours of its development. The PET room has five-foot thick concrete walls and three-quarter-inch thick lead shields to protect individuals. In a non-invasive treatment, the radiation (isotope) is injected without an incision. This was once the stuff of science fiction.

And that’s just one department, Murphy and Vaughn assured. Some support services are in place now, others are yet to come. Post surgery, patients need navigators. There is a breast navigator, a head and neck navigator, and nurses who are exceptionally well trained to walk a patient through recovery. Following breast cancer treatment, for example, social workers, dietitians, genetic specialists, patient therapy, and rehab services are available. With a cancer treatment that doesn’t allow eating (such as throat cancer), you have to be tube fed directly to your stomach. A specialty dietitian creates a diet plan. Some patients need to gain weight, others may have intolerances. Food is very important to cancer recovery, and the goal is that the inability to eat doesn’t become an impediment.

Research is another facet of the new program. Asante has had a cancer research program for years, but today there are onsite clinical trials in place for patients who have exhausted every possible treatment option, allowing them all the standard care, plus options not otherwise available. Asante currently has six active research clinical trials that are recruiting—a breast cancer study, three lung cancer studies, a colon cancer study, and a blood cancer study. These are nationwide trials, but available locally to every qualifying cancer patient who comes through the doors. Vaughn notes that people who are offered this option don’t say no. Their trial may be the key to the next successful treatment that will save untold others.  

A team of IT health professionals has helped with the logistics of in-house efficiency. One facet of Murphy’s contribution to the program is examining the workflow and strategizing so that the business end matches patient needs, to coordinate everything with precision.

The dream of a new cancer center in Medford that started years ago is now a reality. Mary and Dick Heimann gifted $5 million, which along with other large donations and broad community support, made the dream come true. Just because the facility is open, however, doesn’t mean that fundraising is over. There are more dreams, more goals. AsanteForward, part of non-profit Asante Foundation, has launched a $10-million campaign to support the cancer center. Visit www.asantefoundation.org/campaign for more information

www.asante.org

 

NOT JUST A WALK-IN CLINIC

VALLEY IMMEDIATE CARE SERVES ITS COMMUNITY

Compassion is an action word with no boundaries. Prince

A common perception of clinics such as Valley Immediate Care include terms such as urgent and emergency. While they do handle on-the-spot medical events, Valley Immediate Care is about far more. In their Southern Oregon locations—two in Medford, and one each in Ashland and Grants Pass—they also offer dermatology (screening, management, surgery, pathology), orthopedics (sprains/strains, fractures, joint injections, sports medicine), occupational health, and aesthetics services.

However, the clinic also has programs that deal with bigger pictures in people’s lives. In 2015, they started Ink Out, a free tattoo-removal clinic that serves at-risk youth. Many of these young people have “bad” tattoos, such as location on the body or symbols that give messages the kids no longer claim as theirs. Although society has come to mostly accept tattoos, youth who were once involved in gangs but now choose a different path, feel their tats hold them back—employment barriers, ongoing suspicion of gang affiliation. Some of these kids become so discouraged they feel they might as well stay in their gang. Brent Kell, CEO, is proud of this program that helps them move forward after bad decisions. “We all make mistakes,” he says.

There are adults who also want their tattoos removed and can afford it, and their payment helps fund Ink Out. Some might say that these kids made their choices, now they have to live with them. Valley feels otherwise. This service to 140+ people (mostly youth) and counting is changing lives. Sebastian’s story is a perfect example of why Valley Immediate Care believes in this program. He was involved in a gang in Southern California, was shot and paralyzed. He wanted out, so he and his mother moved to this area, where his mom heard about the program. His gang tattoos still made him a target, however, and he feared for his safety. After tattoo removal, Sebastian enrolled in RCC and earned a degree in computer science. He is a young man who has turned his life around.

During COVID, Valley has administered 10,000+ vaccines, some by hosting drive-through clinics in partnership with churches, synagogues, and other organizations. They also work with health departments in Jackson and Josephine counties. The departments have the funding, but need assistance with the logistics. 

Statistics show that many of today’s workers frequently change jobs. In order to combat the time, energy, and disruption of hiring and training, Valley allows its employees to change positions within the clinic. The benefits are many—employees gain new skills and there is continuity within the workplace. Because of this practice, the company thrived and grew through the last couple of years of pandemic.

In order to grow the next generation in the medical field, Valley Immediate Care is deeply invested in several areas of career exploration, such as job shadowing. Internships for high school students allow a student to work six-month stints, starting in reception or the call center, moving to medical assistant, to ex-ray technician. This assists staff, also reminding them of where they once were.

Valley has partnered with WorkSource Rogue Valley (formerly the Job Council). The program offers diverse career exploration, including STEM externships for teachers down to elementary school level. At career highlight events, individuals may participate in hands-on splinting—on each other.

Living Opportunities serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that limit their job opportunities. Valley’s partnership with them benefits both organizations. Several LO folks work at the clinic where currently, eight men and women perform jobs such as scanning, renaming files, sending out medical records, registration, laundry, environmental services, and general clerical positions, all paid positions. 

Seasonal workers are often underserved and forgotten members of our community. Valley partners with Northwest Seasonal Workers Association to provide free or low-cost medical care as needed. Another avenue of community involvement is through disaster relief. After the September 2020 fires in our region, federal resources came in to help, but that took time. During the critical first 72 hours, Valley was present with medical relief, a coalition with the public library for Wi-Fi, and field COVID testing.

Kell says they are always looking ahead for the next means of serving. Currently, they are working with a grant through Southern Oregon Education Service District. Three decommissioned school buses have been turned into transitional housing. A fourth will be retrofitted to become a medical bus where high school students can learn screening and do hands-on projects.

Though we’ve come a long way from the doctor of old who made house calls and served the community at large, the concept is carried on through many of Valley Immediate Care’s community outreach programs. Helping an at-risk kid move forward, administering vaccinations to the community at large, allowing career advancement for employees, hosting events to highlight career opportunities, aiding in community disaster relief, being there for seasonal workers—all these embody the concept of that involved doctor. Much of Valley’s emphasis is on youth, who are our world’s future, either helping them live better lives, or helping them as they consider their careers.

Kell is proud of Valley Immediate Care—of its quality care for patients, of its dedication to its staff, of its innovative programs, of its positive community impact. “You take really good care of patients and the business will take care of itself,” says Kell. That philosophy has made Valley Immediate Care what it is today.

 

For additional information and locations, go to: www.valley-ic.com

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