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Chair of Yarmouth Hospital Foundation welcomes grassroots group push for cancer therapy


Published on June 30, 2017

Yarmouth Regional Hospital.

©SHAWN BOURQUE PHOTO/COURTESY YARMOUTH HOSPITAL FOUNDATION

YARMOUTH, N.S. – Speaking on the board’s behalf, the new chair of the Yarmouth Hospital Foundation says a grassroots effort pushing for radiation therapy at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital is a welcome development. 

“A grassroots movement is the absolute best way to get our message out there,” says Don Cook.

Cook says the foundation wants to see the “latest and best” radiation equipment at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital. But unless the province approves a linear accelerator, he says,  the foundation finds itself in a difficult position.

Yarmouth Hospital Foundation chair Don Cook.
Shawn Bourque

 “We can’t go out and actively campaign unless something has been approved by the province,” says Cook. An ad hoc committee of the foundation, which Cook chairs, continues to research the costs and implications of acquiring radiation therapy for Yarmouth, states a media release issued by the foundation. The foundation says the Nova Scotia Healthy Authority (NSHA) is supposed to review placement of the province’s next linear accelerator this fall. Therefore, says Cook, it’s imperative to keep momentum growing.

If Yarmouth was considered as a location that would only be the launch point, the foundation says. There would be a period of design, approvals, construction, staffing and fundraising, since 25 percent of the cost would have to be raised in the community.

In past it’s been estimated the cost could run $40 million for purchase and installation.

If it ever came to that point, Cook says, “That’s when the foundation gets to work, rolls up its sleeves and starts pounding the pavement to raise the community’s share of the cost.”

On Facebook a few weeks ago, a new movement called the Yarmouth Cancer Support Network was started. The intent of the group is to push for radiation services at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, along with pushing to see the province cover the cost of cancer medications taken orally. The network is also a support place for people to share their experiences when it comes to dealing with, and accessing, cancer care. People have been encouraged to publically share their experiences. And they have. You can visit the Facebook page to read people's stories and experiences.

The group, started by Yarmouth resident Derek Lesser (who got part of his inspiration from Yarmouth town councillor Sandy Dennis who is battling cancer but also advocating on behalf of  other cancer patients) is currently circulating petitions throughout southwestern Nova Scotia to draw the government’s attention to their goal.

PDFs of the petition can be accessed through the Facebook group page.

“We are trying to collect them back in August to present in September. I have posted a copy in our Facebook group for people to print off and bring around to get signed,” Lesser says.

“We hope a lot of businesses will take this on,” he says, when it comes to locations where the petitions can be signed.

Of course there are many factors to consider when it comes to the placement of linear accelerators – cost, population base, specialized staffing being just a few.

In its June 29 media release, the hospital foundation board says it has been working quietly behind the scenes – dating back to 2009 when the Dr. Edwin Cancer Care Centre opened – to explore the need for a cancer radiation treatment centre that would be based at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital and would serve western Nova Scotia. The centre now offers chemotherapy and a variety of other cancer services and support, but not radiation. People have to access that in Halifax, which takes a physical, emotional and financial toll on patients and their loved ones.

The foundation says in August 2014, Dr. Tetteh Ago, Chief of Oncology for the province, and medical physicist Dr. James Robart made a proposal to NSHA to locate a linear accelerator in Yarmouth. Two years ago, oncologist Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst  presented a report proposing that radiation therapy be offered in addition to the excellent cancer treatment already available at the Yarmouth site. At the time linear accelerators had been approved for Halifax and a recommendation was made that one of those new units be reassigned to Yarmouth.

“Hollenhorst’s report emphasized the financial, physical and emotional burdens on patients who have to travel to Halifax for radiation, but also noted that a significant number of patients refuse radiation treatment because of the difficulties associated with pursuing it in Halifax,” the foundation’s release reads.

Cook notes stories people have been sharing on the Facebook network group are very moving.

“It’s just so heartbreaking to hear the stories about the experiences of cancer patients and their families and the hardships they’ve had to endure,” he says.

 

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE DR. EDWIN JANKE CANCER CENTRE:

•  The Cancer Centre at Yarmouth Hospital officially opened in July, 2009.

•  The space was later re-named the Dr. Edwin Janke Cancer Centre, in honour of surgeon and former Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Janke, who was a key advocate for the cancer program.

•  When it opened, the Cancer Centre doubled the number of chemotherapy chairs to 10 at Yarmouth Hospital. It is a bright, modern facility for patients and caregivers as well as staff, physicians, including visiting consultant physicians.

•  Prior to the opening of the Cancer Centre, a number of oncology programs and services were located throughout the Yarmouth Hospital. The Cancer Centre occupies a full wing in Yarmouth Hospital, and features: The Harmony Room, a special place for patients undergoing complementary therapies; Cancer Resource Room; Patient Navigator services (office is also in the centre); Space for education sessions; Space for Counselling sessions; Space for the “Look Good, Feel Better” education program; Space for consults with other health care professionals and Comfortable and “homey” waiting areas for patients and families.

• The Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program, operated by NSHA, is expanding the use of video technology so that patients who live in rural parts of the province do not always have to travel for an appointment with a specialist. 

• The telehealth approach lets Nova Scotia patients meet face-to-face with their doctor without leaving their home community. The oncologists use telehealth for: consultations; case conferencing; reviews and reporting test results; care/treatment planning with patients, families and healthcare professionals; systemic treatment reviews and supportive care visits. (In a survey of 140 patients, over 98 per cent reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with the care received via telehealth)

• The Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program is also working to improve coordination of care so that if patients are travelling for treatment (for example from Yarmouth to Halifax), other tests and appointments can also be organized for the same day.

SUPPLIED BY THE YARMOUTH HOSPITAL FOUNDATION