News Local

Regional CancerCare hub to open at BTHC

From left, Premier Greg Selinger, Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, president and CEO of Cancer Care Manitoba and Central RHA CEO Kathy McPhail at the Cancer Care Hub announcement.

From left, Premier Greg Selinger, Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, president and CEO of Cancer Care Manitoba and Central RHA CEO Kathy McPhail at the Cancer Care Hub announcement.

By Lorne Stelmach

It's a comprehensive $40 million five year plan that aims to transform the entire process of cancer care in the province.

The ultimate aim of the effort, however, as announced here December 1, was simplified to a much more personal level.

From the moment there is a possible diagnosis of cancer, the province wants all aspects of the treatment in place within two months - which would be a reduction from the current average of three to nine months.

And as officials announced that Boundary Trails Health Centre would become the first of a province-wide network of 'cancer care hubs', they suggested although it will be a challenge, it is achievable.

"It's a daunting task ... but failure is not an option for the sake of patients," said Dr. Dhali Dhaliwal, president and chief executive officer of CancerCare Manitoba.

Alongside Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Health Minister Theresa Oswald, Dr. Dhaliwal described the cancer care hub plan as aiming to achieve more efficiencies and remove bottlenecks in the system.

"One may think it is really very obvious ... no one wants rapid lousy care. They want high quality care," said Dhaliwal, who echoed other comments about this plan transforming the cancer journey for patients.

"We want to accelerate that journey," said Dhaliwal, adding they want to "let the patients focus on the cancer and not fight the system ... they've got enough on their plates."

"Our comprehensive strategy for improving the cancer patient's journey will help Manitobans and their families connect with compassionate and responsive care when they need it, as close to home as possible," said Oswald.

Co-ordinate services

Boundary Trails will be the first of a network of regional cancer care hubs as part of the province's $40-million commitment to help Manitobans affected by cancer, Selinger said.

He called it is a commitment to fight cancer together by connecting patients, doctors, nurses and other health-care providers together with new patient navigators to provide faster access to testing, diagnosis and treatment.

The plan expands on the chemotherapy services currently available through community cancer programs. Four more hubs will be strategically developed at existing community cancer program sites over the next year as part of a broader investment of nearly $3 million to transform all 16 existing sites over the next three years, said Selinger.

The coordinated services offered by these hubs will help move the province toward its ultimate goal of accelerating the cancer patient journey to two months or less, he said. The hubs will also help co-ordinate access to expanded services like cancer screening and early detection services, cancer risk-reduction programs and palliative care.

"It will allow us to bring together all the resources that are necessary," said Selinger, adding he sees this being of particular benefit to rural Manitoba - which told him during the last election campaign that health care was a top priority.

"So many communities I went into have these excellent facilities," he noted. "To have these services closer to where people live will make all the difference."

Patient 'navigators'

To support the work of the cancer care hubs and reduce wait times, patient navigators are already in place in the Assiniboine, Brandon, Central, Interlake and Parkland health regions with plans to hire additional navigators over the next few years.

Once this program is fully established, every new cancer patient in the province will be able to access a navigator - someone who will follow their referrals, testing, diagnosis and treatment to ensure care is provided without delay and to advocate on their behalf whenever necessary to speed up care, said the premier.

Each cancer care hub will also have a lead clinician, who will be the region's primary contact for cancer expertise, support and resources.

Kathy McPhail, chief executive officer of the Regional Health Authority - Central Manitoba, suggested it will mean patients and their families will experience reduced stress throughout their journey from diagnosis to treatment.

"Through collaborative efforts and valued partnerships, we can collectively meet our mandate to achieve the best possible health outcomes for our community," she stated.

And she suggested Boundary Trails was an ideal place to begin as it is a facility that arose from a collaborative grassroots vision in the region.

"I think the benefit of this will spinoff farther ... it's not just the disease, it is the emotional impact," McPhail commented. "That is the reason we want to be part of this vision."

There are 16 community cancer programs that currently offer chemotherapy to rural Manitobans.

With over 23,000 patient visits per year, these sites avoid 10 million kilometres of travel to and from Winnipeg for patients and their families, said Selinger.

In total, 10 existing community sites will become full regional cancer care hubs offering an increased range of cancer care, supports and expertise, and the remaining six smaller community sites will become satellite hubs, offering expanded support services while connecting into other regional hubs as needed.

Every year, more than 6,000 Manitobans are diagnosed with cancer, while up to 10 times that number are suspected of having cancer and undergo testing before it is ruled out. Like most other jurisdictions, Manitoba is projecting a 50 per cent increase in cancer cases over the next 20 years.