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Virginia Piper Cancer Institute opens

Reception and ribbon cutting held at New Ulm Medical Center

December 5, 2011
By Serra Muscatello - Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM - Sunday was a day of celebration and happiness - a day of completion and a day of new beginnings.

A reception and ribbon cutting was held to honor the opening of the new Virginia Piper Cancer Institute (VPCI) in the lower level of the New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC).

People attending the ceremony also toured the new facility.

Article Photos

Staff Photo by Serra Muscatello
This is a room in which cancer patients receive treatments in the newly built Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at New Ulm Medical Center. It features a lot of natural sunlight, and patients can socialize while receiving treatment. Each treatment chair also has its own television set. The hospital’s auxiliary donated the TVs.

Project planning for VPCI began in late 2010. In early 2011 Allina Hospitals and Clinics Board of Directors approved funding the project.

In August, the project's construction began in the former fitness center in the lower level of the clinic. On Nov. 7, VPCI -NUMC opened its doors to serve patients.

Over the last 15 months 1,400 donors gave 2,100 monetary gifts, according to Carisa Buegler, executive director of the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation.

"We're just extremely grateful," said Buegler, "It has gone really fast."

Buegler fondly spoke of Barb Fenske who served as campaign chair for the project.

"She was openly a (cancer) patient ... and she could communicate with people how much we needed this (new cancer center)," said Buegler, "This is a day of closure and a day of new beginnings. ... It's a great day to celebrate."

"The (previous oncology) department, which was designed to treat four or five patients at a time, experienced significant growth in the last few years. It is not uncommon to have nine patients onsite instead," according to information from a newsletter of the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation.

"I know it's meant a lot to have this place for our patients to come to," said New Ulm Medical Center President Toby Freier, " This is a great team. ... This is an exceptional place."

During the ribbon-cutting ceremony Freier thanked those who were gathered at the new center for their help in making it a reality.

"Cancer touches everyone's life," said Lorna Holmberg, who is the Oncology Department Manager and a registered nurse at the NUMC. "The staff here is just awesome. ... The staff is what makes people want to be here and want to get their treatment here."

Holmberg said nurses at VPCI are Registered Nurses with certification in oncology care. She also said that the oncologist Dr. Ettore Piroso, M.D. is seeing patients full-time in the department.

The new VPCI has 12 infusion bays, five clinic rooms, conference/telemedicine room, resource gathering area, heated chairs, television sets at each chair, limited lab and radiology services onsite and genetic counseling.

"It's very open (the treatment area)," said Freier, "Ten chairs out in the (open) space ... natural light. We were fortunate this space was available ... We've blended innovation with excellence ... and a stability factor (longevity of their care staff)."

He said the center will serve patients in the 30-mile radius of New Ulm except to the west where patients could be as far as 60 miles away.

"This year we're on pace to have 4,500 patient visits through the cancer center," said Freier, "This is about double from five years ago."

The center also features staging bays for patient privacy before they go in for cancer treatments.

Freier also said patients helped by giving their ideas and feedback in the design of the center.

Things that will be coming soon to VPCI include clinical trials, telehealth and integrative therapies like massage, aromatherapy and music therapy.

"I'd like to thank everyone in the community and the patients and the NUMC staff," said Holmberg.

In the spring 2012 a Garden of Hope will be planted outside the department. The garden will be named in memory of Barb Fenske who died in July after a courageous and lengthy battle with cancer.

Project Funding

In late 2010, Allina Hospitals and Clinics committed $475,000 to the Cancer Center Expansion and Renovation project. Then in partnership with the community and the New Ulm Medical Center Foundation, an additional $455,000 has been raised through philanthropic contributions. Efforts for fund-raising are continuing toward the goal of $500,000.

At this time approximately 92 percent of the campaign goal has been reached, according to Buegler. The last part of the campaign will be focused on the garden project.

"It (the garden) really does matter to the patients," said Buegler. Viewing the garden get patients' minds off their situations. "It's a distraction to them, and it's also a part of their healing."

Roger Poss, of New Ulm, a patient receiving care at the NUMC for cancer, said that it has been helpful for him to have the center so close to home.

He was diagnosed in May 2009 with Stage 4 lung and bone cancer.

"It's much more convenient here," said Poss, "You never know with the weather if you'll be able to get in for a treatment ... If it wouldn't be for them, I wouldn't be here."

Poss said the staff at VPCI is "perfect."

"Whenever you need help they are there. ... If you have a problem, they can help you with it," said Poss.

Chris Lawrenz, a former oncology nurse, said her life and her family have been touched by cancer. She said the first oncology doctor came from the Twin Cities in January of 1980. He would come once a month.

In July of 1993, Lawrenz said she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then her mother was diagnosed in December of 2008 and died on June 4, 2009.

"The nurses get really close to their patients and their families," said Lawrenz, "Being a chemo nurse you go through everything with them and their families. The nurses are very giving of themselves and their time."

Lawrenz lost her husband to cancer in April of 2010. She was able to work with the hospice nurses to help manage the pain for him, and he was able to stay at home for his final days.

Lawrenz said she also lost her father to cancer 22 years ago. Hospice also allowed him to stay in his home until the end of his life.



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