Bluewater Health opens new cancer care assessment and treatment centre


Just imagine…it might be cancer.

The prospect of a cancer diagnosis is perhaps one of the most anxious times anyone could face. Cancer care can be fraught with diagnostic procedures, appointment and treatment delays, fear of the unknown and a complicated and unfamiliar system in which one can feel lost and alone.

Karen Gibson, age 51, knows the journey well. Since finding a lump in her breast while in the shower, she has endured mammograms, needle biopsies, a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. With courage and humour Karen is facing a double mastectomy and later, reconstructive surgery. Karen spoke about her cancer during Bluewater Health’s official opening of its new Cancer Care Assessment and Treatment Centre in September.

While first reluctant to have local cancer care, Karen now says, “I’m so thankful that I’ve had my treatment here in Sarnia; the nurses are wonderful and they know me by name.” She also praises Bluewater Health Patient Navigator, Alana Halfpenny who co-ordinates patient care as they move through services with greater ease, speed, comfort, education and support.

Planning first began in 2009 when the Bluewater Health Board of Directors directed Administration to undertake a thorough review of cancer care in the region.  Vicki Lucas, Business Director of Surgery, Rehabilitation, Ambulatory Care and Oncology says, “As part of our planning we engaged patients, families, physicians and partners. From the client-centered evaluation of services it was clear that care was excellent. The main issue though, was lack of system coordination to support the patients’ cancer journey. Navigating the system can be cumbersome with longer-than-desired wait times. We set out to achieve wait time and treatment time reductions of 25 per cent for the four cancers that have the highest incident rates – namely lung, breast, colorectal and prostate.”

From  prevention, screening, treatment, diagnosis, recovery, palliative and end-of-life care, the Centre’s Mission is to provide comprehensive cancer care by embracing all aspects of health and healing: caring for the body, educating the mind, and nurturing strength and courage.
Collaborative planning

Lucas was the executive sponsor of Bluewater Health’s cancer care strategic plan. Project support and facilitation was provided by Gary Byrne, Hospital Management Services Inc. The 15-member Steering Committee of stakeholders included primary care physicians and surgeons, nursing and diagnostic staff, community support agencies, administration and representatives from London and Windsor Regional Cancer Programs.  A series of interviews sought patient and family perspectives and advice.

A key element of the project’s success was the Work Group process. Four Work Groups, represented by physicians and surgeons, oncologists, nursing staff and diagnosticians reviewed the current practices, performance indicators, program strengths and opportunities, key success factors and an assessment of critical diagnostic and treatment wait times. This multidisciplinary approach enabled the teams to critically evaluate the approach to serving cancer patients and together identify areas of improvement.

Work groups collaboratively developed patient pathways whereby the current process was flow-charted and critiqued for improvement opportunities. This focused effort helped to streamline care by identifying every step along a patient’s journey and then redesigning the pathway to eliminate any unnecessary complexity, duplicative work, or unnecessary delay. The result is best practice, evidence-based Diagnostic Assessment Plans which prescribe how each cancer care patient – by type of cancer – will be assessed, treated, and advanced through the system of care in a prioritized, simplified, standardized and more convenient way.

Positive outcomes

Bluewater Health anticipates treating 1,500 patients each year at its Cancer Care Assessment and Treatment Centre. The Centre is located in the Pre-Admission Surgical Clinic, part of the newly constructed Norman Building at Bluewater Health in Sarnia. Cancer care is also provided in Ambulatory Care, the 15-station Oncology unit, and the Breast Assessment Program of Diagnostic Imaging.

Sue Denomy, President and CEO said, “A major focus for cancer care improvement is to streamline the time from when cancer is first suspected to diagnosis, and from assessment to treatment. Where it once could take months, we are significantly shortening the period of uncertainty to weeks, for better patient care. Improving access to better, more efficient and rapid cancer diagnosis is a necessary component of a high quality cancer care system. The centre’s model of care is aligned with Cancer Care Ontario’s vision and the direction for cancer services in the province,” she added.

Although still in early stages, there have already been dramatic and positive results as envisaged by the planning teams.
•    Wait times for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment have been reduced by 30% contributing to greater patient and family satisfaction and lessened anxiety.
•    The number of visits to diagnostic tests and to and from physicians and surgeons offices has been reduced to an absolute minimum, speeding the diagnostic and treatment process.
•    The time from a positive colonoscopy finding to surgery, reached the Provincial benchmark.
•    New surgical booking processes make it possible for surgeons to arrange urgent cancer priority operating room time.

According to Dr. Patrick Taylor, a surgeon at Bluewater Health, “All surgeons treating cancer patients have something of a dream…That one day, cancer patients will be treated differently from other patients; that they will be given a higher priority; that their care will be co-ordinated and concentrated in one place so they will not have to travel far for care; and that their wait times will be shortened. I believe that this Centre brings that dream closer to reality.”

For more information about Bluewater Health’s Cancer Care Assessment & Treatment Centre, please contact Vicki Lucas, 519-464-4400 ext. 8330 or visit and click on Programs & Services.