Health Care

Via Christi plans new cancer unit

Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis will spend $9 million to create a single area for cancer patients and increase the therapeutic services available to them.

The project involves gutting nearly 41,000 square feet on the hospital's seventh floor for the Via Christi Cancer Institute, a unit with 40 large, private rooms that will accommodate all of the hospital's medical and surgical cancer patients as well as their families.

The institute also will include several private family sleeping rooms and a patient and family education center with online access to information about cancer research and support services.

Separately, the Via Christi Foundation will begin a fundraising effort for an "integrative therapy center" that will have yoga, massage, and art therapy for patients and their families, as well as a small movie theater for them.

"This is probably one of the most exciting things that's happened in my career in Wichita," said Patti Moser, administrative nursing director for oncology. "I think this is probably the first time in my career in Wichita that we are moving forward with something that patients are asking for."

Construction on the institute is set to begin in July and open next June.

Claudio Ferraro, Via Christi's vice president for strategic planning and oncology, said the project is more than just a cosmetic remodel.

It will involve stripping everything inside of the north end of the seventh floor, concrete walls and all, and rebuilding it, Ferraro said.

GLMV Architecture is the architect and Hutton Construction is the general contractor.

The institute was developed in part from feedback from oncologists and focus groups with cancer patients and their families, hospital officials said.

Ferraro said Via Christi looked at its number of cancer inpatients as well as the number of people from Wichita seeking treatment at other regional cancer hospitals — MD Anderson in Houston and Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa — to determine how many beds it would need for the institute.

"What we tried to do is spend a lot of time understanding where cancer patients are going," he said. "We did a very lengthy analysis over a number of years."

Between the analysis and focus groups, Via Christi came up with a unit that they said is appropriately sized and unique to Via Christi and the area.

St. Francis has about 600 medical and surgical cancer discharges a year.

One big change that will occur with the institute is housing all cancer patients in one unit. Previously a surgical cancer patient would be admitted to a surgical floor, for example.

"The patients can easily identify this is the place you go for cancer care," Moser said.

She added that officials are working on a plan where cancer patients would be directly admitted to the institute, bypassing the general hospital admission desk.

Moser said she also is looking forward to more rooms for bone marrow transplant patients. She said three years ago, 27 transplants were done at St. Francis. Last year, there were 46.

"This is really, really ideal for our patient population," she said.

Moser's excitement over the institute is mostly with the integrated therapy center.

She said there's scientific evidence that shows laugh therapy helps cancer patients by stimulating endorphins. The movie theater, she said, will be a good place for caregivers to use laugh therapy for patients and their families

"The value of that is watching movies that make you feel good," she said. "That helps with anxiety, tension and it eases pain."