July 26, 2006 — Wednesday was a time for rejoicing twice over at the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute as the facility officially inaugurated its medical oncology unit and announced a "surprise" donation of $250,000.
Schneider Regional Medical Center CEO Rodney Miller Sr., SRMC COO Amos Carty and SRMC board chair June Adams were all smiles as they accepted the quarter-million dollar check from Richard J. Stephenson, founder of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and president of International Capital & Management Co.
"Stephenson is a great guy," said Miller. "He loves life and he loves to give. We needed this, and this says a whole lot about the spirit of the Stephenson family and his company. Dick Stephenson has supported this project from day one, and he's given thousands of dollars to this project already. This donation will help us achieve our goal and vision of being the best health care provider in the Caribbean."
Marketing analyst Charlene Kehoe presented the check, expressing the Stephenson family's pleasure in being part of the institute. The Stephenson family name will now be permanently displayed in the radiation oncology suite of the facility's first floor.
Kimelman Administrative Director Renee Adams took the opportunity to encourage the public to take advantage of other naming opportunities. With a smile, she said, "We need to name every door, every chair, every water fountain. We want to put your name there."
The 68-seat auditorium was packed with staff, cancer patients, and government representatives, including Senate President Lorraine Berry and Sen. Craig Barshinger, Health and Human Services Committee chair.
The $18 million, 24,000-square-foot institute received its first radiation patients in May, while July 11 marked local medical history as the facility's chemotherapy unit treated its first patients.
June Adams said, "I couldn't be happier, and it couldn't have come at a better time." Making reference to the recent impasse over the renewal of the hospital's license and a critical editorial from the Daily News, June Adams said, "We have been getting so many bricks thrown at us. We want to say to the brick throwers, 'Come and see us, see what we are doing for the people of the Virgin Islands.'" Adams continued, "We are alive and well, and we are going to continue to serve you well."
Fighting back tears, Renee Adams described what it is like to be part of the institute. "We deal with this dreadful disease on a daily basis. Now patients can have loved ones with them, family support. A woman came to the front door yesterday, and you could hear her screams going right through you."
However, Renee Adams said, "It's not always crying. Yesterday, too, a gentleman who had finished his treatment, said he wished he could put us all in a big package and take us home with him."
She noted that cancer treatment didn't just begin with the opening of the institute. "We have been treating people with chemotherapy for a very long time at the hospital, before we moved into the new building, the 'palace,'" she said. "In the past 12 months we have put together an oncology team, an education program, provided screening, an early detection program.""
She said that since the radiation unit opened in May, it has treated 45 patients. "Over the past seven months," she said, "we have treated 496 chemotherapy patients. Some of them come between three and five days a week, from one to six hours a day.
"Word is spreading," Renee Adams continued. "There is no waiting time for treatment. The patients let me know if it's good or bad service. The only complaint we have had is a request for a headset for the TV."
Adams introduced two people she called "special." "Mr. and Mrs. William Smith," she said, "have donated a one-bedroom apartment for use by our off-island patients."
William Smith is a patient, himself. He said he had been treated in Texas before coming back home for treatment. "I'm happy to be here," he said, "and I can't say much more than that. My wife told me to keep it short."
Oncology nurse Treatha Rayford, for years a familiar face in the hospital, traced briefly the oncology unit's history. "From humble beginnings on the third floor with two rooms, we moved to the fifth floor with more space in 2003, and now we have transitioned to the institute, with more comfort for the patients, more privacy and state-of-the-art equipment.
"We treat the entire patient," Raftered said. "We sit and talk, we say a prayer, or, sometimes, just give a hug." And Raftered introduced some of those patients.
Cheryl Hydman, a longtime Legislature employee currently working in the office of Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, said, "I have been coming here for a long time. Everybody knows me," she added with a smile. She thanked Drs. Herbert Goldman and Thelma Watson for diagnosing her disease. "And now," she said, "I don't have to go for radiation treatment to Florida and stay with my sister. If I need more radiation, I won't worry about it because I can stay right here."
Lucille Penn thanked the nurses and the institute on behalf of her husband, Garvin Penn, who comes from Tortola for treatment. She was clearly moved by the occasion. Wiping back a tear or two, she said, "For my husband, I want to thank you. He is on his way to recovery."
Following the auditorium presentation, a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony baptized the medical oncology unit, a sunny suite framed by picture windows, which Miller calls "a room with a view." The suite has eight stations, each overlooking Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Each chemotherapy station is equipped with a TV/DVD unit and can be curtained off for privacy. There are two more private rooms in the back of the suite, and a pharmacy is located on the premises.
Miller took time out earlier in the ceremony to defend SRMC against public allegations recently brought against the facility (See "Schneider CEO Responds to Daily News Editorial"). "We are performing better than ever," he said. "In 2002 when I came, we had annual revenue collections of $21 million; in 2005 we had $46 million in collections. That performance cannot be disputed."
Regarding what has been called the facility's refusal to divulge all financial information, Miller said, "Critical financial information, from a competitive standpoint, is not required anywhere under the U.S. flag.
"We are audited every year," Miller said. "Prior to my arrival, we were never audited. When folks read these things it questions the character of the institution, and that hurts. I have an open-door policy, and anyone can come see me and ask whatever they want." Miller apologized for his "digression," but, he said, "I wanted to say that."
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