Wake Forest Baptist unveils expanded cancer center

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The $125 million expansion of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center will open to patients next week as the region’s first dedicated cancer hospital.

The capital construction project, which began in June 2011, added 282,800 square feet to the cancer center, giving it a total of 530,600 square feet. Features include private rooms that make use of natural light, recliners and sleeper sofas for patients’ family members.

The expansion increases the number of acute care oncology inpatient beds from 113 to 148 and adds a new oncology intensive care unit. The expansion also adds four inpatient floors, a day hospital floor and an administrative floor. It consolidates all inpatient and outpatient services under one roof.

“This is a very important part in the history of our institution, and I would argue, a very important day in the history of North Carolina,” Dr. John D. McConnell, Wake Forest Baptist’s chief executive, said Tuesday during a news conference to unveil the center.

McConnell spoke before a group of about 100 people that included Gov. Pat McCrory, local and state government officials and Wake Forest Baptist staff.

“This new facility enables Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to continue offering world-class cancer care and treatment as one of the country’s only 41 comprehensive cancer centers and the only one in western North Carolina,” McConnell said. “We achieved that status because of the type of integration between our research and discovery efforts and the compassionate translations of that research into improvement of cancer care not just here in North Carolina but literally around the world.”

McConnell said that the expansion was designed with patients and their families in mind to be as welcoming as possible and create a healing environment.

Other features at the cancer center include laundry facilities and small kitchenettes on each inpatient floor, and “Serenity Rooms” that enable families to rest and take a hot shower. A large, family waiting area offers TVs and partitioned computer stations.

McConnell also said that the cancer center represents “stimulation of the economy and the creation of jobs.”

He said that Wake Forest Baptist wants to use its “discovery efforts to create new products that will actually bring new jobs to North Carolina.”

McCrory said he was impressed with features in the cancer center, including a courtyard and benches for family members.

“What so impressed me about the tour of this facility today is that first of all, it was patient friendly,” McCrory said. “Second, it was — probably the most important — family friendly.”

He also spoke about how North Carolina needs more venture capital money coming into the state.

“One of the ways you attract more venture capital money here is you convert the research money from the state and federal government into actual solutions and into patents, and into actual hands-on,” he said.

He said that of all the different schools that received federal grants, Wake Forest Baptist got the biggest return on investment of grant money.

“They converted the research into solutions, and that’s something we have to encourage and continue to promote because the competition for these dollars is very tough,” McCrory said.

The cancer center expansion could be the last major project that Wake Forest Baptist takes on for a while, given the medical center’s recent cost-cutting measures.

In a statement, answering questions about its expansion, the hospital said that medical center leadership has several other large projects in discussion but nothing concrete.

In a statement as to why the medical center is spending millions on the expansion during the economic recession and amid job layoffs, Wake Forest Baptist said that funds for capital projects are different than operating funds.

“This expansion is part of the overall capital capacity model and strategic facilities plan for the institution and the money was designated as planned,” the medical center said.

Several Wake Forest Baptist and Wake Forest Medical School staff said they are excited about the expansion.

“I think it allows us to improve our care of patients in a much more comfortable environment for them and their families,” said Dr. Bayard L. Powell, professor of internal medicine and section chief of hematology and oncology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. “What we hope is it will point out to the Forsyth County and Winston-Salem community that they have a top-12 cancer center in their midst.”

Sally Hauser, breast care nurse practitioner at Wake Forest Baptist, said she has already been through the new part of the cancer center several times.

“We’re making even more emphasis as we’ve gone to more inpatient rooms to make it more patient-focused and patient-centered,” Hauser said. “It’s a very open area. There’s a lot of natural light and art to make it calming and reassuring.”