FAIRWAY, Kan. – When Truman Medical Centers opens its expanded cancer-treatment center next year, hospital officials say the $6 million expansion will make the facility more comfortable and convenient for patients.
But Truman officials said their cancer patients already have access to some of the most advanced cancer care they have ever been able to receive locally thanks to an organization that has largely grown and operated behind the scenes.
Truman is a member of the Midwest Cancer Alliance, which the University of Kansas Cancer Center established five years ago as part of its to drive to become a nationally recognized center through the National Cancer Institute. The KU Cancer Center earned NCI status last year.
The alliance started with a handful of Kansas-based hospitals but now includes 20 hospitals and research institutions throughout Kansas and western Missouri. Its newest member, Newman Regional Health in Emporia, Kan., joined this spring.
“Cancer is a disease that ignores race, gender, social status and/or the border between the states,” Truman chief executive John Bluford said last week when announcing the expansion, which will be called the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Center in honor of the family that made the lead donation for it.
The new center, he said, was a “glowing example of the continued collaboration that exists between all participants in the Midwest Cancer Alliance.”
Truman’s participation in the alliance helped in raising money for the center, said Jim Dawson, who retired recently as executive director of Truman’s charitable foundation.
Truman worked with KU to secure early support for the project from the Hall Family Foundation. Being part of the alliance, Dawson said, lent a “certain level of gravitas, and respect, and position.”
Truman is part of the alliance’s seven-member Partners Advisory Board, which includes institutions such as Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo., and Stormont-Vail Cancer Center in Topeka. The board also includes the Kansas Bioscience Authority and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.
The hospital partners each pay an annual membership fee of $1 million, which supports NCI-related research activities, said Hope Krebill, executive director of the alliance.
Other membership levels include “community partner” and “clinical research partner,” which require annual dues of $25,000 or $55,000, respectively. An annual allocation of $5 million in state funds helps Kansas institutions pay the membership fees.
One of the chief aims of the alliance, Krebill said, is to make clinical trials at the KU Cancer Center accessible to patients in their home communities.
That’s good for the low-income clientele Truman serves, said Dr. Jill Moormeier, chief of oncology at Truman. In the past, she said, Medicaid clients might have had to travel as far as St. Louis to find a trial that would take them.
Uninsured patients, she said, “have to get their care at Truman because that is the only place they can get care without a large down-payment up front, so (alliance membership) really has been most beneficial for that group of patients.”
Moormeier said the alliance also provides young physicians in its oncology fellowship program first-hand experience managing patients in clinical trials.
“There are very specific expectations on how patients are cared for, how the data is kept, how informed consent is obtained from patients,” she said, “and those are skills that all practicing oncologists should have.”
The alliance helps its member institutions, Krebill said, but it also was a significant factor in the KU Cancer Center’s pursuit of NCI designation. It demonstrated outreach into a broad service area, she said, and provided a diverse mix of patients from urban and rural settings.
Krebill said those relationships would become even more important as the cancer center pursues a higher level of recognition from the National Cancer Institute, known as “comprehensive” status. Of the 67 NCI-designated centers around the country, nearly two-thirds have the higher level status.
To achieve that level, Krebill said, the KU Cancer Center must demonstrate greater efforts in population health science, such as smoking-cessation work and breast-cancer awareness programs for women.
As the manager of the Central Cancer Care Center in Emporia, Justin Branine said alliance membership provided a range of benefits. Central Cancer Care is the oncology provider for Newman Regional Health.
Local access to clinical trials is the key benefit, he said. But the center’s physicians also get consultations and education opportunities through tele-video technology.
He said he also expected membership in the alliance to increase patient volume, which would be good for the center and for patients who would be spared leaving the community or state to participate in clinical trials.
“To travel is not good for a cancer patient,” he said.