Since the new 14-story, 500,000-square-foot Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven opened its doors last October, one thing patients have noticed is that there are no television sets in the waiting rooms. Instead, there is beautiful artwork, a rooftop garden and a saltwater fish tank the size of a loveseat. The hospital is equipped with high-speed elevators, but visitors still walk up and down in stairwells with glass exterior walls.
“Patients are reacting very well,” says hematologist Peter Marks, MD, clinical director of the hospital. “It’s a warm and inviting space. They say they’re happy to come to one place that is familiar to them for all aspects of their care.”
Programs are up and running
María Rosa Menocal, a Yale professor, was the first patient to walk through Smilow Cancer Hospital’s lobby when it opened on October 26, 2009. She learned last summer that what seemed to be a lingering cold was actually a rare mucosal melanoma in the base of her nose, and she was visiting the radiation oncology clinic, the first service to move in, for radiation treatment.
Now all of the hospital’s 12 cancer programs are fully operational and hundreds of patients have been treated. Smilow Cancer Hospital consolidates all of Yale’s cancer services, both inpatient and outpatient. It is affiliated with Yale Cancer Center, southern New England’s only comprehensive cancer center designated by the National Cancer Institute, and one of only 40 in the United States; and Yale Medical Group, the full-time faculty of the Yale School of Medicine.
Before, many of Yale’s cancer programs required patients to schedule visits throughout the Yale Medical Center for services such as chemotherapy or radiology; at Smilow Cancer Hospital, they are centralized.
“We have providers interacting with one another in ways they weren’t interacting before,” Marks says. “We’re able to have various specialists, such as a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, a radiation oncologist and even a medical specialist all here at the same time, sometimes side by side, seeing a patient. We know that patients have better outcomes and more satisfaction when they’re treated this way.”
Radiology and surgery
Many specialties have improved upon their services. Smilow Cancer Hospital has increased imaging capacity for diagnostic radiology at Yale from five magnetic scanners to eight, including dedicated MRI machines in the Breast Center on the hospital’s first floor and in the operating room for MRI-guided surgery.
“We have even better equipment at Smilow Cancer Hospital,” says radiologist Peter M. Glazer, MD. For example, therapeutic radiologists are using a Novalis BrainLAB system, which allows stereotactic treatment—minimally invasive techniques guided by a three-dimensional coordinate system—for tumors of the spine and other locations.
Operating rooms are unusually large. All equipment is ceiling-mounted and slides into place wherever the surgical team wants it. This mobility includes drop-down high-definition screens that allow a surgeon to refer to an imaging study. The ceiling-based system makes it easier for the team to move and allows the room to be rapidly cleaned.
Improvements in breast care
The Women’s Cancer Center, including Yale-New Haven Breast Center, has moved from its location in the Yale Physician’s Building to Smilow Cancer Hospital’s ground floor.
“Now, with the new breast imaging, we not only have increased capacity for mammography and ultrasound, but we have a dedicated breast MRI unit,” says surgical oncologist Donald Lannin, MD. “That has made a world of difference because patients can now get their mammograms, ultrasound and MRI all at the same time, and see the surgeon if need be.”
Nearby is a boutique where people can be fitted for wigs, breast prostheses and lymphedema sleeves; hats, scarves, pill boxes, jewelry and other gifts are for sale.
Private rooms for patients
All adult patients who stay at Smilow Cancer Hospital have private rooms, which help control infection. Each room has a sleeper sofa so that family members can stay overnight, and visiting hours never end.
While children continue to receive inpatient care at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, a connecting walkway gives them access to a pediatric floor in Smilow Cancer Hospital for treatment.
Marks expects to see the hospital make cancer care even more personal as it provides doctors with further opportunities to advance research.
“I think what we’ve seen in the first six months at Smilow Cancer Hospital is the start of a transition that we’re going to make over a number of years,” he says. “We are moving toward what we hope will be not just the premier cancer hospital in Connecticut, but a regional and national center where we provide integrated care that showcases what we have to offer here.”