For the past thirty years, UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital has operated the Wendt Regional Cancer Center, providing high-quality cancer treatment. Whether a patient of Grand River Medical Group, Medical Associates, or another provider group, patients receive the best comprehensive care at the Wendt Center. Mercy’s application for a linear accelerator in Dubuque is based on faulty logic and as a result, threatens the continued existence of a cancer program that ranks in the top 1% nationwide.
Finley’s radiation therapy program, which includes TWO linear accelerators, is a leader in quality, efficiency, and satisfaction. Mercy has filed a certificate of need application to add ONE linear accelerator to the community by establishing a new radiation therapy program
In their application, Mercy projects to treat 457 patients in the first year it operates the proposed linear accelerator. The problem with Mercy’s projection is that in order to execute, Mercy would need to take 100% of all radiation therapy treatments from the Wendt Center, plus, a vast majority of ALL radiation therapy treatments in the surrounding five counties. This is an unrealistic assumption given Mercy would need to convince patients who live closer to higher-volume programs to drive to Dubuque.
Since 2012, Finley has invested over $3.6 million in capital improvements at the Wendt Center. In June 2015, Finley replaced a linear accelerator with a new, state-of-the-art Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator. Making these large investments in technology is challenging in a community our size because the fixed costs must be allocated over a smaller number of patients than in larger population centers like Des Moines or Cedar Rapids.
With our investment in technology, we’ve been able to serve more patients, in less time, with less exposure to radiation. Over the past five years, the number of radiation therapy patients treated at the Wendt Center declined by 12%. In 2016, the Wendt Center provided radiation therapy to 366 patients—significantly less than Mercy’s first-year projection of 457 patients.
Technological advances have significantly reduced the number of treatments each patient receives. Mercy assumes in its application that each patient will receive an average of 30 treatments, but during the first half of 2017, the average Wendt Center patient received only 20 treatments—50% less than Mercy’s assumption.
With declining patient volumes and treatments per patient, the Wendt Center has significant excess capacity to treat all patients in the Dubuque community who require radiation therapy. Approval of Mercy’s proposal would result in dividing the small number of radiation therapy treatments performed in Dubuque between two low-volume programs, threatening the continued existence of the Wendt Center.
I spoke earlier of our patient satisfaction scores ranking in the top 1% nationwide. This is tied to the fact that we’ve implemented a collaborative and patient-focused model of care. Our team works closely with referring providers to ensure that the referral process is as seamless as possible. We provide a nurse navigator who supports each patient and his or her family to help overcome barriers to care and to minimize the stress and disruption of cancer treatment. Our collaborative nature has allowed us to integrate services and expand upon the already seamless patient experience.
No community in Iowa of comparable size has more than one radiation therapy program. If a second radiation program were to exist in Dubuque, it would undermine the continued viability of the Wendt Center. For these reasons, Finley will encourage the State Health Facilities Council to protect the high-quality cancer treatment available at the Wendt Center by rejecting Mercy’s application.