By Becca Taurisano
Tuesday, December 28, 2021
As a member of the Roswell Park Care Network, patients of Oneida Health’s Medical and Radiation Oncology practices receive National Cancer Institute standards of care and a superior patient experience, close to home.
The Oneida Health Medical Oncology and Radiation Oncology team
From its inception, the partnership between Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Oneida Health has had a singular mission: provide the highest quality, innovative cancer care in a community setting with an outstanding patient experience. Roswell Park provides the clinical pathways and expertise in diagnosis and treatment while Oneida Health provides a full complement of network services and state-of-the-art technology, in a convenient location. It truly is the best of both worlds for patients.
Dr. Thomas Schwaab, Chief of Strategy, Business Development and Outreach, and Associate Professor of Oncology and Immunology at Roswell Park says, “Roswell is always happy to partner with institutions that are driven to deliver the highest quality of care. We have the same mission as Oneida Health, to make top notch cancer care conveniently accessible to as many New York State residents as possible. If you are a cancer patient, the last thing you want to do is spend time traveling in order to get the best level of care. Having that mindset for the patient is really important to the mission of our partnership.”
Roswell Park is the only National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Upstate New York, and one of three such centers statewide. Dr. Roberto Martinez, Medical Director of Medical Oncology and Hematology and Dr. Maya Mathew, Medical Director of Radiation Oncology are Roswell Park physicians located onsite in Oneida, dedicated to providing their patients with world-class cancer care, in a convenient location. “When care becomes more convenient, that directly affects quality of life and positive patient outcomes. It takes the fear and cost of traveling out of the equation,” says Dr. Martinez. “We offer the same treatment in Oneida as we do in Roswell,” says Dr. Mathew, “It is the Roswell standard of care which patients are getting here at home. If I were the patient, I would not compromise on the standard, so if I can get the same standard of care near my home, why not?”
“The partnership between Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Oneida Health has a singular mission: to provide the highest quality, innovative cancer care in a community setting with an outstanding patient experience for those we care for.”
— Gene Morreale, Oneida Health President and CEO
Seamless Connection Between Campuses
Patients at Oneida Health benefit from Roswell Park expertise being delivered to Oneida. If a patient requires a consult from a Roswell Park specialist, Oneida makes the connection with Roswell Park very easy for the patient. Oneida Health facilitates an initial consultation using telemedicine, either from the patient’s home or in-office with the oncologist present. “There is intimate contact between Oneida and Roswell,” says Dr. Martinez. Dr. Schwaab visits Oneida once a month and is in close contact with the oncologists in Oneida. “Roswell Park leadership is involved with this relationship. The physicians we employ are inherently driven to be part of Roswell Park. That comes through in the desire to deliver the right quality of care,” says Dr. Schwaab.
The Medical Oncology practice will double the size of their outpatient facility, the William L. Griffin Medical Oncology Center, from six to twelve outpatient exam rooms, as well as increase the staff work area in 2022. This expansion is made possible by a $500,000 donation from the Dorothy G. Griffin Charitable Foundation. The Griffins previously donated $1 million to the William L. Griffin Medical Oncology Center in 2019 and $1 million to the Dorothy G. Griffin Radiation Oncology Center in 2017. This generous support will make it possible for more patients to be treated at the facility and for staff to work more efficiently and comfortably.
William L. Griffin Medical Oncology Center
Access To Specialized Expertise
A Buffalo-based multi-disciplinary committee of disease-site specialists is available to Dr. Martinez and Dr. Mathew to review their cases and provide insight on a regular basis. The oncologists in Oneida have the ability to present these cases remotely to the team in Buffalo comprised of Roswell Park oncologists, pathologists, and radiologists proficient in treating specific disease-site cancers. “The Oneida patient has the safety and luxury of knowing that a number of highly specialized oncologists have reviewed their case,” says Dr. Schwaab. “It is a huge advantage for the patient because they are getting the expert opinion from Roswell Park cancer specialists. A head and neck radiation oncologist is only treating head and neck cancers, so their expertise is greater,” Dr. Mathew says. Once Dr. Martinez and Dr. Mathew have reported the patient’s case to their respective boards, the committee members will give them feedback and guide them on the best path forward. “We have close contact with the specialists in Buffalo. Cancer care is continuing care. There are bound to be bumps in the road, so that close relationship is important. Our colleagues in Buffalo are always available to consult with us when any issues arise,” says Dr. Martinez.
Oneida Health has implemented a local tumor board in Oneida who serves as an extension of the multi-disciplinary board in Buffalo. This board involves Dr. Martinez and Dr. Mathew as well as Oneida surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, and primary care physicians. The purpose of an Oneida-based tumor board is to elevate the level of care being provided at the local level.
In a recent survey conducted by Oneida Health Radiation Oncology, patients ranked their satisfaction 9.86 out of 10 upon treatment completion.
Focus On Quality
Roswell Park is an internationally recognized brand known for comprehensive cancer care. There are multiple mechanisms built into the relationship between Buffalo and Oneida to ensure continuity of the quality of care associated with the Roswell brand, no matter where it is delivered. Dr. Martinez and Dr. Mathew follow Roswell Park clinical pathways, or preferred treatment for each particular kind of cancer, bringing that in-depth cancer-specific experience to patients in Oneida. These clinical pathways can be reviewed remotely by Roswell Park which ensures the doctors are following best practices. The review process provides continuous opportunities for improvement. “It is the Roswell standard of care that we adopt here in Oneida,” says Dr. Mathew, “The physics team from Roswell’s main campus reviews all our radiation plans to make sure the quality checks are in place before the patient gets treatment. They do weekly checks which is the standard for all Roswell patients whether in Buffalo or Oneida.”
Keeping Care Local
Oneida Health is known for providing award-winning patient safety and patient experience to the communities they serve. “We strive to give state-of-the-art medicine in a community setting,” says Dr. Martinez. The goal is to continue that small community touch, no matter how much they grow, with a focus on keeping patients local. “Modern cancer care is intricate and well-orchestrated in that a patient may need chemotherapy, radiation therapy, specialized imaging, biopsy, molecular pathology, surgery or genetic screening. If these disciplines don’t reside under the same roof, it can take a long time to develop a treatment plan. When a patient makes their way through the doors at Oneida Health Medical Oncology, they have access to all of that without leaving the campus,” says Dr. Schwaab.
We have a great team here. When you give the best care and a great patient experience, patients will be satisfied.”
— Dr. Maya Mathew, Medical Director of Radiation Oncology
Investment In Technology
The expert medical opinions you get from Roswell Park are coupled with Oneida Health’s significant investment in technology. Using an onsite CT simulator, the Radiation Oncology team uses advanced imaging techniques and software to deliver precise dosages while taking every measure to minimize the exposure to healthy tissue.
In some cases, Dr. Mathew can also take advantage of other imaging modalities including a new PET/CT and 3 Tesla MRI to fuse images for more invasive tumors. Radiation therapists use a TrueBeam linear accelerator to generate and deliver precise targeted treatment to treat cancer. “We are using the most modern equipment available in the region,” says Dr. Mathew.
Personal Interaction With Staff
Personal interaction with the oncology staff is a big part of patient care and ensuring positive outcomes. “Cancer is a life-changing diagnosis. The life of a cancer patient is fraught with difficulties, so it is important to have a personal touch. It makes this disease less dehumanizing. If they can touch someone, tell their stories, and ask their questions, that makes their experience much less difficult,” says Dr. Martinez. “When you are getting radiation treatment, you require compassion and empathy. Every person’s attitude is different toward cancer and cancer treatment. We try to put ourselves in the patient’s shoes. We are making sure that everyone is getting high-quality tailored treatment, as well as that personal care from us,” says Dr. Mathew.
Oneida Health provides contact with a nurse navigator from the very beginning of a patient’s cancer journey. The nurse navigator is available to coordinate appointments, answer questions, identify patient needs, and provide financial counseling. Often the nurse navigator is there just to listen. “The nurse navigator is very important,” says Martinez, “Cancer is a journey and there can be very complicated treatment plans. They are the advocate and champion of the patient, and essential to their care.” The nurse navigator is the glue that keeps it all together, bridging the gap between offices, providers, campuses, and even family members. For a patient who has other social and financial issues, the nurse navigator provides the support that might not otherwise be available, forming a close bond with the patient and their family.
Dr. Martinez and Dr. Mathew are readily available to referring physicians whenever questions about a patient’s treatment may arise. “Communication is essential. A lot of the doctors have my cell phone so they will contact me frequently. It is important to stay in touch,” says Dr. Martinez. “If there is any concern to be discussed with the patient’s primary care and other physicians, I do not hesitate to pick up the phone,” says Dr. Mathew.
Advancing The Approach
There are many planned improvements to optimize the integration between Buffalo and Oneida in the future. “The Oneida cancer service line continues to grow, and there is always room for recruiting highly qualified and very driven physicians,” says Dr. Schwaab. Patient volumes are up 30% this past year and Oneida anticipates the growth will continue in the coming years. They plan to add a second medical oncologist and additional ancillary staff to support this growth. Plans are in place to open a survivorship center and to expand the cancer screening program, as well as opening clinical trials.
With the significant resources of Roswell Park delivered locally in Oneida, referring physicians can have the peace of mind that their patients will receive the best possible patient care. “Referring physicians want to know that their patients are receiving high-quality care in a timely manner,” says Dr. Schwaab. “This is all about the patient, who has a dire diagnosis and the last thing they want to do is worry about getting their cancer treatment. Cancer treatment is really time-sensitive so you need to make sure chemotherapy and radiation are delivered in a timely manner. Delivering that care right in the patient’s hometown, that is what this is all about.”
For more information about cancer care in Oneida, visit oneidacancer.org.