The Evolution of Outpatient Cancer Treatment at St. Joseph’s Health Centre

Cancer manages to touch just about everyone we know in some way. It is a very common disorder and is one of the most common causes of mortality. For many years St. Joseph’s Health Centre has had the staff, facilities and expertise for diagnosing, treating and supporting cancer patients and families, including our outpatient oncology services.

Almost thirty years ago, St. Joseph’s Health Centre began providing chemotherapy services on an outpatient basis. The surroundings were quite different then. The original treatment area had been converted from a waiting room located on the ground floor with no windows. The hours were Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for four hours each day. The staff was small: one nurse, two physicians and a pharmacist on consult.

In spite of remarkable progress that research made in advancing the treatment of cancer, rates continued to rise in some populations, increasing the need for a greater capacity to treat cancer patients. Demand was further increased because of the large aging population in the community we served. Cancer affects the older population at a higher rate. As early as 1986, it became evident that the clinic had to move to a new location to provide adequate service to the increasing number of patients needing care.The larger clinic opened on the seventh floor in 1986. At that-time, a satellite pharmacy was developed in the unit to serve the patients. This area provided the necessary safety requirements for the sometimes hazardous chemotherapeutic agents and allowed for the medications to be prepared on the unit to ensure maximum efficiency. A full time pharmacist was dedicated to the oncology clinic in 1987. With the exception of some generously donated art, the clinic maintained the same in appearance over the years.

Again, with time and because of increased demand, it was clear that the clinic would need to move, once again, to a larger space. A great deal of planning has gone into redeveloping the space required to the expanding needs of our oncology population. The end result was the new Oncology Clinic, which recently opened.

During the planning stages, it was decided that the new unit should be located closer to the inpatient oncology unit to further build in continuity of service. Many come as inpatients as well as outpatients during the course of their treatment so it made sense to bring the units closer geographically. The new unit was to serve a larger population and was designed to address some of the challenges that were encountered on the seventh floor. The new unit has ten treatment stations with custom recliners that fully extend. Patients can surf through the channels on their personal television sets or they can sit back and gaze over the wide blue scenery of Lake Ontario. The environment is relaxing and brightly set off in colors of salmon and cherrywood. There is also a large aquarium in the centre of the treatment area which would provide distraction from the often tedious chemotherapy treatments with colorful tropical fish.

The new Oncology Clinic with all of its added features is everything we hoped for. Where else can you receive cancer treatment with sparkling water? The sparkling water of Lake Ontario that is! Each treatment bay has a huge picture window overlooking the water. The space is much larger and brighter than the previous unit and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. In addition, there is also a large conference room to provide educational sessions to patients who are learning what to expect from their treatment plan.

Our services include Oncologists who assess and treat outpatients, Pharmacists who use state-of-the-art drug protocols to ensure the very best chemotherapy treatments and Nursing staff who are trained as experts in the administration of chemotherapeutic agents. We have a Social Worker who advocates on behalf of patients and families and provides counseling and support. Nutritional services provide counseling regarding the effect of cancer and methods to maintain optimum nutritional status. Chaplaincy provides spiritual care to all patients upon request.

The cancer care setting at St. Joseph’s Health Centre has been evolving over the years. It all started out in that dark old waiting room where we first provided chemotherapy treatments to our community. We look forward to serving our community for many years in our new space.