New cancer center dedicated at St. Elizabeth Edgewood

Allegra Thatcher, Assistant Editor.

It’s a week for new beginnings and an advent of hope at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, Edgewood. The new Cancer Center was dedicated Sept. 29 by Bishop Roger Foys after the ribbon cutting ceremony, and opened to its first patient Oct. 1.

Mr. Garren Colvin, president and CEO, said, “This building, and the programs in it, has a soul. It’s a soul tied to the mission and vision of our institution, which goes back 155 years. When this building opens Oct. 1, the amount of lives who will be impacted by the people, programs and medicine that will fill these halls, is positively overwhelming.”

Bishop Foys, who brought a first-class relic of St. Elizabeth, patroness of the hospital, blessed the space and led those gathered in prayer.

“Let us ask for God’s blessing on all the sick who are patients, and on those who devote themselves to caring for them,” he prayed. “We ask a divine blessing on this center, dedicated to the care of those in need. … Grant that, comforted in their illness, the patients will quickly regain their health and joyfully thank you for the favors they have received.”

Bishop Roger Foys prays a blessing over the new St. Elizabeth Cancer Center at the dedication Sept. 27.

Bishop Foys expressed his gratitude for the new center and all the good work it will do. “One of the primary things that Jesus did in his life, beside teaching, was healing the sick … this facility continues the work of the Lord Jesus,” he said. “I’m so pleased to be here.”

As part of the dedication, Jospeh Bozzelli, staff chaplain, read from Scripture and led those present in a responsory psalm and prayers of the faithful.

Debbie Simpson, Board of Trustees chair, also addressed those gathered. “I’m extremely proud to know that this center is being built for the benefit of our community and through the support of the community,” she said. “The structure signifies the unity of people throughout our region, who have come together to change cancer outcome for our region. … Together we will change the cancer narrative for our family, our friends and our community.”

The idea was conceived about three years ago after a Community Needs Assessment, according to Dr. Doug Flora, MD, executive director. The St. Elizabeth staff surveyed educators, politicians and local community leaders on what they thought the most pressing needs were for healthcare in the region. The results showed it was cancer care, cardiac care and mental health and addiction. Two other centers, dedicated to cardiovascular care and mental health care, were completed since then.

“This was the final cog in the wheel for us,” said Dr. Flora.

Kentucky is currently first in the country for cancer-related diagnoses and deaths, first for lung cancer deaths and first for colon cancer. St. Elizabeth’s solution is the region’s first world-class cancer center, featuring screening and prevention, precision medicine and genomic health, clinical research and the most advanced technology in the field. Ground was broken in 2018, and the center has continued in construction since then, leading up to fall 2020 and the grand opening.

The center, Dr. Flora said, is a promise. “I feel like we have had thousands of meetings, planning and scheduling and schematics … now we’re actually inviting patients into our home. To finally have these guests who are able to take advantage of the gifts of this building means a lot to me.”

As a former cancer patient himself, Dr. Flora said he made sure the new center was built around the patients and their convenience. At every level of decision making, even interviewing for navigator positions, patients set the bar.

(left to right) Kathy Jennings, senior vice president patient care, cancer care, Dr. Doug Flora, MD, executive director, Cancer Center, Debbie Simpson, St. Elizabeth Board of Trustees chair, Garren Colvin, St. Elizabeth president and CEO, Bishop Roger Foys and Father Dan Schomaker, vicar general.

One of the major advantages of this facility, said Dr. Flora, is its capacity for multidisciplinary care. “All of the providers that a patient would need to see can combat that cancer under one roof … You can see three or four doctors in a half day in the same clinic, that’s unique. Sometimes these things take three or four weeks and different offices to get through the queue of medical oncology and surgeons and radiation doctors. Now we’re all going to see you on a Tuesday morning, within an hour and a half of each other … I think that relieves some of the burdens off the patients themselves and also makes us expect a little bit more of ourselves as caretakers to make sure that the process is built around the patients themselves, rather than around the doctors, which has been the traditional way.”

Another asset is the attitude around the center of addressing the whole person — body, mind and spirit.

“We’ve got places for prayer and quiet reflection, for massages or acupuncture, in addition to cutting edge clinical trials … This is worthy for our patients, they deserve access to clinical trials,” said Dr. Flora.

“What we’re going to do here is challenge the rest of the community to keep up, and if you want to provide the same level of care that we’re going to afford our patients, you’d better be ready to do screening detection, precision medicine, cooking classes, all of these softer touches I think will distance us from the field and maybe make the other centers realize that it’s about the whole person and not just the cancer,” he said.

The center opens for its first chemotherapy infusion on Oct. 1, and the following Monday the medical oncologist practice moves in. Mr. Colvin said overall, it’s taken 700,000 people hours, employing 2100 employees during a pandemic. “When the world slowed down, this building kept going. We were able to do it safely, on time, and for this community.”

“Today is a momentous day for the fight against cancer in Northern Kentucky,” said Mr. Colvin in conclusion.