Cancer is scary. A diagnosis of cancer can be overwhelming.

But Cancer Treatment Centers of America strives to calm and cure patients by guiding them through treatment.

“At CTCA, it’s about treating each patient with compassion, dignity and respect — the way we would want our own loved ones to be treated. We call that approach the Mother Standard of care. It’s the principle upon which CTCA was built,” says Dr. Chevon Rariy.

Dr. Rariy is the director of the Telehealth Program at CTCA and Telehealth is now available at Iroquois Memorial Hospital. IMH and CTCA have joined in a collaboration to bring the latest cancer treatments to patients at Iroquois Memorial.

The collaboration was announced at a mid-March open house at the hospital. The goal is “to provide access to expert cancer care in your local community,” according to Dr. Rariy, an endocrinologist.

A key part of the program will use Telehealth, which involves a secure system, including a TV monitor and camera, allowing for access to top-quality specialized clinical care close to the patient’s physical home in Iroquois County, while getting help and information from the CTCA physician.

Don Williams, the CEO of Iroquois Memorial, said at the open house that the collaboration with Cancer Treatment Centers of America was “a first step” in “rebuilding the brand of Iroquois Memorial Hospital.”

Williams added that the Auxiliary for Iroquois Memorial Hospital, a volunteer organization of both men and women, made a donation to pay for the Telehealth technology at Iroquois Memorial.

The same donation also paid for the first year of the necessary electronic connection. Active since 1949, the auxiliary has donated $850,000 to the hospital over the years.

Under the coordinated care program, the patient makes their first visit a clinician at Iroquois Memorial. If they were referred to IMH from another provider, they still remain under the care of their referring physician with the addition of the IMH clinician facilitating their cancer care. Their X-rays, records and lab work are sent to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. The patient then heads to the CTCA Hospital in Zion for or a face-to-face visit. CTCA operates a hospital in Zion, as well as outpatient facilities in Gurnee and the downtown Chicago.

Once a treatment plan is worked out, the patient returns to their hometown. They would visit Iroquois Memorial for their chemotherapy infusions and check-in through Telehealth. Telehealth, Dr. Rariy, explained, can be done through a videoconferencing tool in the provider’s office.

The initial thought was that the link would only be done in a medical setting, but in the new COVID world, there may be other options that could be explored, which support social distancing and quarantining during the pandemic.

Dr. Rariy said there are tremendous benefits to remaining near your home while undergoing treatment. There is less time off work, less time spent in transportation and less stress.

Most chemotherapy cycles vary from two to six weeks, taking between three to six hours per infusion. And a cycle may contain one or more than one dose given weekly or daily.

It is also a big benefit to patients to be closer to their “support system, closer to family.”

The collaboration provides Iroquois Memorial patients with access to CTCA Chicago experts in the fields of medical oncology (the latest research); radiation oncology; surgical oncology; and hematologic (blood) oncology. There will be increased access to genetic and genomic testing, determining any hereditary aspects to the cancer. Finally, there is precision cancer treatment, a high-tech look for the most effective and least toxic treatment.

The idea for the collaboration came about when representatives of Cancer Treatment Centers of American and Iroquois Memorial were both attending a meeting of the Rural Health Association.

The new coordinated care program is being put together by Michelle Fairley, a registered nurse, who is the Vice President of Customer Care and Chief Nursing Officer at IMH; Dr. Rariy; Bruce Gershenhorn, DO, medical oncologist and Director of the Lung Cancer Center for CTCA; and Eugene Ahn, MD, medical oncologist and Medical Director of Clinical research for CTCA.

Dr. Rariy said the collaboration was a way of bringing new benefits, clinical trials and best practices to patients.

“Patients in rural locations often have difficulty accessing comprehensive care and treatment options,” said Dr. Gershenhorn in a prepared statement. “Thanks in large part to telehealth, which brings the patient/doctor relationship close to home, this will no longer be the case for patients in central Illinois and west central Indiana.”

Dr. Rariy anticipates that the link will work with existing staff at Iroquois Memorial. She anticipates CTCA physicians visiting Iroquois Memorial, both to work with the staff and provide training on new techniques; and to provide educational seminars to the public on various aspects of cancer.

She says that, in general, agricultural and rural areas often have higher death rates in breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer. That is often because there is less access to screenings that can spot problems in early stages.

Michelle Fairley of Iroquois Memorial said doctors Rodney Alford and Olatunji Akintilo are the facilitating providers at Iroquois Memorial. They will be the physicians seeing the patients first and then helping guide them through the program.

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