The Peeples Cancer Institute (PCI) opened for patient care on January 6, 2020. Since its inception, PCI’s ultimate goal has been to provide high quality cancer care in the North West region from Georgia. The design of the 46,000 square foot facility allows for comprehensive care under one roof. In the past, cancer care was provided by several separately located offices associated with Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton. By uniting all cancer services in a single facility on the hospital campus, the efficiency and coordination of care has been significantly improved.
When a patient first visits PCI, they will notice prominent waterfall features on the facade of the building which provide a soothing and soothing experience as you enter the facility. Inside, you are immediately struck by the beautiful, warm and inviting reception area. The space feels like an upscale hotel lobby rather than a medical facility. Local artwork and color schemes throughout the space are well thought out to create a welcoming atmosphere. In the meantime, patients and family members have the opportunity to relax and enjoy one of the many food and beverage options at the full-service bistro located in the main floor lobby. All of these features were designed with patients and their families in mind. First impressions are important in setting a soothing and peaceful tone that enhances the overall patient experience.
Shortly after PCI opened its doors in early 2020, our world changed forever with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has presented many challenges to patient care across all subspecialties of medicine. It became very quickly apparent that patients undergoing cancer treatments were particularly at risk for adverse outcomes related to COVID-19 infection. Administrators, providers and staff have met and developed a series of plans to manage and guide our patients through this difficult time. Personal protective equipment, schedule modifications, visiting policies and individualized care plans have all been used to successfully manage patients through the peaks and troughs of the pandemic. Despite these challenges, PCI continued to experience steady growth in its oncology clinics and infusion center.
We are very proud of our cancer care team at PCI. Our provider staff currently consists of two board-certified medical oncologists, two board-certified radiation oncologists, and three nurse practitioners who hold their AOCNP (Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner) certifications. In addition to our providers, we offer other ancillary services which include a case manager, dietitian, nurse navigator and clinical trial nurse coordinator. Quality cancer care requires a coordinated and effective clinical program to be successful. To facilitate this pursuit, PCI houses nine medical oncology examination rooms, 20 semi-private infusion bays, and six individual private infusion rooms. The Infusion Center within PCI also houses a comprehensive pharmacy providing all chemotherapy, immunotherapy and supportive medications to our patients receiving treatment. The Radiation Oncology Clinic has the most advanced capabilities in our region with a Truebeam linear accelerator, 4D CT simulation, Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT), Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS), and HDR Brachytherapy capabilities.
After the center opened, a process was put in place to assess each tumor site service line for areas of improvement and needed services. While each type of cancer has been evaluated and plans have been put in place for continued growth of the various service lines, our breast cancer program has seen notable growth and progress. The Women’s Imaging Center located at PCI has been updated with three new mammography units. Additionally, breast MRI technology has been added to our imaging capabilities through our brand new state-of-the-art 3T MRI machine located at the Hamilton Diagnostic Center. In early January 2022, Dr. Adrian Miller was added to the radiology staff. Dr. Miller is a fellow trained mammographer with expertise in reading mammograms, breast MRIs and performing diagnostic breast biopsies.
We also offer a dedicated Breast Nurse Navigator to help manage patients through the cancer journey, from the time of biopsy through the end of their treatment plan and through to survival. Other breast cancer support services offered by PCI include the region’s only PAXMAN cooling cap system for the prevention of hair loss during chemotherapy. We have also partnered with the Bradley Wellness Center Physical Therapy Department to provide lymphedema therapy to patients affected by upper extremity lymphedema in the post-surgical setting. We are also delighted to have created a genetic screening program for hereditary breast cancer and a high-risk genetics clinic for the care of those at higher risk for hereditary cancers. The genetic screening program is operated by the Women’s Imaging Center and the ICP Medical Oncology Clinics.
Patients who come to these clinics for services undergo a screening questionnaire, and a simple blood test if necessary, to assess for hereditary cancers. This program was launched in September 2021 and has now screened over 2,500 patients. Up to 25-30% of patients screened through our genetics program experienced a change in medical management based on their results. This program has had a positive effect on many patients and their families and will continue to grow in the future as the importance of the association between genetics and cancer risk becomes more important in cancer care.
PCI is rapidly becoming a regional reference center in oncology. The growth at the center has been phenomenal. The oncology clinic over the past 12 months has received more than 5,400 patient visits, including nearly 700 new patients. The PCI Infusion Center has treated approximately 15,000 patients in total, including those on chemotherapy/immunotherapy plans, those requiring blood transfusions, and patients receiving other IV support medications. Our radiation oncology center provided more than 5,700 radiation therapy treatments during the same period. With this growth comes greater responsibility.
Our goal is to continue to provide high quality comprehensive cancer care in the region. At PCI, we have a weekly tumor conference to handle patient cases in a multidisciplinary manner. This conference is attended by all members of the cancer team and enables patient care in a holistic manner that helps improve clinical outcomes. Maintaining high standards of quality care is very important to us, and we are proud to be a Commission on Cancer (COC) certified cancer program. This designation, awarded by the American College of Surgeons, indicates that the cancer care provided at PCI is of the highest standard.
On January 6, 2022, our COC designation status changed from a community cancer program to a full community cancer program based on the size and number of patients treated through our program.
In order to continue to provide patients with comprehensive cancer care, our program has applied for and been granted clinical research affiliation with the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) for the purpose of initiating NCI-designated clinical trials at ICP enabling additional treatment options for our cancer patients. In early 2022, open enrollment began at ICP for the EA-1181/CompassHER2 clinical trial examining breast cancer chemotherapy treatment strategies for selected patients with HER2+ breast cancer. Other clinical trials for other cancers will open in the coming months.
I was fortunate enough to be appointed Medical Director of Oncology for PCI in February 2020. While my initial interest in oncology began in a research lab at Duke University, this is the act everyday of caring for patients over the past 17 years that fulfilled my desire to help those navigating their cancer journey.
Both of my parents were cancer survivors, which inspired me not only to provide the best care to my patients, but also to provide unparalleled support to their families. I promise that PCI will always put our patients first and provide excellent cancer care with hope and compassion always at the forefront. Our vendors and staff will continue to strive for excellence with the goal of making the Peeples Cancer Institute the region’s leader in comprehensive cancer care.
J. Eric Turner