Opened in 1989, the Comprehensive Cancer Center (CCC) at Desert Regional Medical Center was the first multidisciplinary outpatient cancer program in the Palm Springs, California, area. The CCC represents the collaboration of the multispecialty regional medical center with Aptium Oncology, a national provider of oncology management and consulting services. The CCC now employs 120 healthcare professionals and provides a full range of services, including screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care under one roof. The 60,000-square-foot center houses a medical oncology infusion center, physician offices and examination rooms, a radiation oncology treatment area, outpatient surgery facilities, a laboratory, a pharmacy, a research department, a comprehensive breast center, and a patient resource center. The center employs a multidisciplinary team of physicians with expertise in all the major types of cancer and offers a variety of treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, gene therapy, and surgery. Patients have access to on-site psychosocial, nutritional support, and financial counseling services. In addition, the CCC provides genetic testing for women at high risk for breast or ovarian cancer, a hospice program, a pain management program, support groups, and volunteer services. Because of its excellent reputation, patients come from far away to be treated at Desert Regional CCC, and social workers help arrange housing for patients and their families; translators are available to assist foreign visitors.
Pharmacist plays many roles
Through its affiliation with Aptium Oncology-managed cancer centers throughout the country, the CCC offers patients the opportunity to participate in phase 1 to 4 clinical trials. Oncology pharmacist Craig Elg, PharmD, BCOP, coordinates clinical trials in addition to his other responsibilities. "At any given time, we have 40 to 50 clinical trials open and running," he says. "One of my responsibilities is to make sure that the pharmacy portion of those trials is running smoothly and correctly. I go to the site initiation visits and meet with the monitors to make sure that the protocol is being followed properly, the drugs are being stored in the correct manner, destruction policies are being followed, and all the paperwork is done. Since we implemented our electronic medical record (EMR), I'm also involved in building the protocols for all the new research trials. Once we sign on to do something, those order sets are put into the EMR so that the physicians have easy access to them."
In addition to their more traditional responsibilities for counseling patients and providing support to medical staff on a variety of supportive care issues, such as fatigue and pain management, Elg and his fellow pharmacists at the center have the ability through special California law to prescribe controlled substances to help manage patients with cancer pain.
Desert Regional CCC provides an environment in which employees are encouraged to do new things and take on new responsibilities, Elg has found. "You get a lot of support from Administration and the medical staff. It is a very collaborative practice here and definitely an enjoyable place to work."
Nurse appreciates range of specialties
Oncology nurse Kristin Rupp, RN, BSN, OCN, agrees, saying, "We feel as if we are a family here. Coming here as a transplant from Indiana, it has been very welcoming." Rupp previously worked on the oncology floor of a local hospital in Indiana and in private oncology practices in Indiana and California. In her previous jobs, she says the nurses had to take on other responsibilities, such as mixing chemotherapy, in addition to their nursing duties. "We wore all hats. We were the nurse; we administered chemotherapy in our office; we ran the lab; we were the social worker; the dietitian, everything." At the CCC, she says, "I can rely on all the different professions—the pharmacists, the dietitians, social workers, and others—to add their knowledge and expertise to taking care of the patient as a whole. This allows me to focus on my nursing role." There are also advantages for patients. "We have everything here under one roof," making it possible for patients to see different specialists in one visit, she notes. "The level of expertise that I am surrounded by every day makes care of the patient top notch."