A comprehensive cancer centre planned for Calgary brings hope to cancer patients and their families for a brighter, less stressful future. The Alberta government recently announced the new comprehensive cancer centre to take the place of Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, which ran out of capacity nearly 10 years ago. The purpose of the Tom Baker centre will be to provide more general clinical space for the Foothills Medical Centre, but only after the new centre is complete (an estimated start date of construction has been slotted for 2015 or 2016).
UNDER ONE ROOF: Cancer patients will receive the full suite of services at one location in Calgary, a change that reflects the growing population.
“For many years, our donors have been telling us that a new cancer facility in Calgary is an urgent priority,” says John Osler, Alberta Cancer Foundation chair, noting that Alberta Health Services (AHS) currently provides services for cancer patients at five different facilities in Calgary. “That adds a lot of complexity to a person’s cancer journey,” says Osler, who is a cancer survivor himself and can empathize.
As Alberta’s population continues to grow, it is apparent that a new cancer centre is necessary so current and future needs are met. The unfortunate truth is that as the number of Albertans increases, so does the number of people getting cancer. “It’s important that we in this province can meet the needs,” Osler says.
The Alberta government announced the $1.2 billion project in partnership with the Alberta Cancer Foundation, the largest non-government funder of cancer research in the province. The foundation has committed to raising $200 million for the project.
“Our participation in the process that led to the announcement of a comprehensive cancer centre in Calgary underpins our goal of a cancer-free future for all Albertans,” Osler says.
The announcement, at the beginning of March this year, regarding a comprehensive cancer centre in Calgary was the culmination of the hard work of many people, he adds, including Alberta Cancer Foundation staff and trustees, Alberta Health Services personnel, and various members of government, including the minister of health, along with Premier Alison Redford.
The announcement of the new facility “is fantastic news for us – for Calgary and southern Alberta,” says Dr. Paul Grundy, Alberta Health Services senior vice-president and senior medical director for CancerControl Alberta. “This is going to give us the capacity we need to provide patient services to at least 2030. This is positioning Alberta, particularly southern Alberta, where it needs to be to help us move forward.”
The new centre in Calgary, together with the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, “will work to lead Alberta forward to be an innovator, and to put Alberta at the leading edge of cancer control in Canada,” Grundy says. “This will be a major centre of activity and leadership that will form part of the provincial cancer program.”
The end goal of the Calgary centre is to be a partner with the Cross Cancer Institute to lead and increase capacity of the provincial program, which currently supports 15 smaller cancer centres throughout Alberta, Grundy says.
The new comprehensive cancer centre will offer a strong research base, with researchers working alongside oncologists and the cancer support team to bring innovative strategies and hope to cancer patients and their families. All under one roof, the centre will house specialized health-care professionals and specialized technology for cancer imaging, diagnosis, pathology, molecular diagnosis and radiation technology. It will provide the full scope of services for cancer patients, including expert consultation, and systemic therapy, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy, anti-cancer drug therapy, radiation treatments and supportive care – all part of a single program for each patient.
“It’s exciting because this is something you really can’t put off to the side,”says cancer survivor Tricia Antonini, who was first diagnosed with acute leukemia in June 1997 and had two relapses in 2002 and 2006. Her treatment included three bone marrow transplants in that time span.
“Cancer patients know that time is more valuable than anything … and the cancer journey often requires patients to navigate through a maze of uncertainty,” she says. “While some of that is uncontrollable, this comprehensive cancer centre will help to put many of the puzzle pieces together for them, and will allow patients and their families to better focus on their fight.”
By providing patients with all of the services they need as part of a single program in one facility, AHS will be able to offer more co-ordinated and cohesive treatment, Grundy says.
“We should be able to integrate the various parts of their treatment better; we will be able to offer more team-based consultations. We hope to improve the quality of patients’ experience by making it more efficient, and for them to understand their choices more clearly in the longer term,” he says. “We believe this is the model by which we can deliver the best care, and we believe that it will translate into improved patient outcomes – both quality and quantity of life.”
The health-care professionals who work at the new facility will not only provide the best available therapies to patients, but they will also carry out research focused on improving existing cancer therapies and help educate the next generation of scientists, researchers and other medical staff launching into oncology studies.
“These are the people who are on the cutting edge, who are visionaries leading our system forward to ever-better therapies, in addition to doing clinical care,” Grundy says. “It will help the entire health-care system provide better support to cancer patients, from first symptom through to survivorship or palliation.” The reach of the new centre’s care will be well beyond the actual walls of the building.
AHS models integration of research in clinical care – it’s something the organization feels is optimal for all aspects of care, such as improving radiation treatments, chemotherapy or supportive care, says Grundy. He is eager for even more to happen and hopes the new centre will help boost integrated research to a new level.
According to Grundy, the new centre and its employees should look at what needs to be done today, and also how to get where they need to be tomorrow. “That vision, in this instance, is very much looking at people across Alberta for some of the innovation we hope will be an influence across the world. What makes these cancer centres comprehensive is the leadership, the research, and the education of new practitioners,” he says. “We have professionals who are known internationally. In addition to looking after patients, these are the individuals who are driving the improvement agenda, and driving research and innovation across the planet.”
South Versus North
For those who might question why Calgary – and not Edmonton – is receiving this large cash infusion for a new cancer centre, it’s because the need is greater in southern Alberta.
“Alberta Health Services recognizes that we have challenges around physical capacity to treat patients, both in Calgary and in Edmonton,” says Dr. Grundy. “But that challenge is greater in Calgary at the moment, having run out of space a number of years ago. The priority for an upgrade to our cancer centres had to be in Calgary.”
Up next for funding will be the Cross Cancer Institute, the comprehensive cancer centre located in Edmonton, which received substantial upgrades in the mid-1990s, but is now running out of capacity. “That will now become our first priority, as we’ve had approval for the new cancer centre in Calgary,” Grundy says.
The Where, What and When
Calgary’s new comprehensive cancer centre will be located at the Foothills Hospital site in northwest Calgary.
“In order to achieve its best, the centre needs to be physically integrated with the rest of the research on campus, and it needs to be integrated with the other medical specialists at the Foothills Hospital,” says Dr. Paul Grundy, Alberta Health Services senior vice-president and senior medical director for cancer care.
Housed under one roof, the new facility will provide more streamlined, one-stop care, and will build on the high level of care standards that health-care professionals already provide for patients in Calgary and southern Alberta.
Calgarians hope the project will break ground in 2015, with completion by 2018.