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Roswell Park stretching cancer care network across New York

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center on Tuesday announced a new statewide alliance that will help standardize cancer care from Buffalo to Long Island, making it easier for patients in even remote places to plug into top specialists and clinical trials for the most advanced treatments.

Roswell Park will provide treatment with partners across the state – at sites in Orchard Park, Niagara Falls, Williamsville, Jamestown, Olean, Ithaca, Oneida and Rockville Centre – and in Bradford, Pa.

"The Roswell Park Care Network is about providing the very best cancer care and making it available in communities throughout the state," announced Dr. Thomas Schwaab, the Buffalo hospital's chief of strategy, outreach and business development. "If you're a patient who wants access to cutting-edge treatments, but also needs daily chemo or radiation, we can now provide that."

The network partners Roswell with other medical care systems including Buffalo Medical Group, Catholic Health of Buffalo, Catholic Health Services of Long Island, Cayuga Health, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Oneida Healthcare and Upper Allegheny Health System.

"Obviously, Roswell Park is the mother ship for complex cases, rare tumors, things only we have expertise for. That won't change,” said Candace Johnson, president and CEO of the cancer hospital. “Because you're connected to a Roswell Park Care Network in the community, if your local providers think you need our services, they'll send you here.”

For instance, a breast cancer patient in farther flung parts of the state – say on Long Island or in Central New York – will see a network oncologist in their region and the affiliation will provide them with input from Roswell breast cancer specialists, as well as inclusion in appropriate clinical trials. That participation can be handled remotely through telemedicine.

A patient dozens of miles from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, say in Springville, could come to Roswell Park for treatment but see a cancer doctor closer to home, in this case in Orchard Park, to handle treatment including radiation.

Roswell Park – the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the state, outside New York City – treats more than 50,000 patients annually at its hub on the Medical Campus. Related clinics handle nearly 300,000 outpatient visits elsewhere. Those numbers are expected to grow with the new Roswell Park Care Network, though hospital officials can't predict by how much.

The goal is to provide an individualized plan for each cancer patient based on national standards, available clinical trials and physician expertise.

"We're giving more options and choices to patients,” Johnson said. “You can be seen at Roswell Park or you can be seen elsewhere."

The Orchard Park care network site on North Buffalo Road emerged after talks between Roswell, Buffalo Medical Group and Catholic Health. All three now have a hand in Southtowns Radiation Oncology.

Dr. Thomas Schwaab, left, chief of strategy and business development at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Mark Sullivan, president and CEO of Catholic Health in Western New York, say the new Roswell Park Cancer Network will provide personalized, comprehensive patient care with high standards and greater access to clinical trials. (Scott Scanlon/Buffalo News)

"As health care changes, we need to change,” Catholic Health President and CEO Mark Sullivan said. “Doing that through a partnership is better than trying to replicate services.”

To be sure, the groups already had a looser connection.

Schwaab, for instance, performs kidney cancer surgeries that involve heart complications at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo, with help from Dr. Stephen Downing, a Catholic Health cardiothoracic surgeon.

“Modern oncology care is really an intricate dance between pathology, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy," said the Roswell chief of strategy and business development. “This is more formalizing what we already are providing in the vast majority of our locations.”

A closer connection will help all affiliated health providers to use best national practices for comprehensive cancer care as it improves access.

This is why Catholic Health Services of Long Island ended a similar arrangement with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – a pre-eminent national cancer hospital in New York City – to become part of the Roswell Care Network.

"We sought a relationship with a premiere cancer center that would offer more collaborative relationships with our doctors," said Dr. Alan Guerci, president and CEO of the downstate health system.

The system did not pay Sloan Kettering as part of its collaboration, Guerci said, but will provide Roswell Park with money to help its affiliated providers improve standards of care and give patients access to investigational clinical trials conducted by Roswell.

Schwaab said contracts with other providers involved in the network vary and are confidential.

Immunotherapy and targeted drug studies – which have shown great promise in stopping even the most aggressive of some forms of cancer – can now be conducted in affiliated settings on Long Island.

"You don't want to drive into Manhattan from Long Island if you're healthy,” Guerci said. “It's brutal. It's two hours each way from the middle of Long Island. This way, the investigational drugs are available locally."

Patients from Long Island – as well as anywhere in the Roswell Care Network territory – also are welcome to seek care in other cancer centers across the country, as they deem financially and clinically fit.

Most cancer centers, including Roswell Park, are part of a state and national cancer consortium. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leads this effort with the aim of providing the best comprehensive care to all Americans.

The New York Cancer Consortium is a voluntary network of more than 200 cancer leaders, health providers and patient support organizations who collaborate to reduce cancer incidence and mortality.

Its new five-year strategic plan, approved last year, looks to improve cancer-related treatment, health equity, health promotion and cancer prevention, early detection, palliative care, survivorship, and the number and abilities of the health care work force.

The Roswell Park Care Network was designed to help meet those goals.

“If you are a cancer center in the National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center rung, you are intimately aware about the nature of changes in cancer treatment,” Schwaab said, and can say, “Hey, do you guys at Memorial Sloan Kettering have a clinical trial open for this particular rare cancer?’ And they can say no but try another center, say MD Anderson in Texas.”

Roswell Park Care Network

Member centers include a mix of community practices, hospital affiliates and clinical research partners:

  • Breast Care of WNY, also known as Roswell Park Breast Surgery, Williamsville
  • Catholic Health Services of Long Island, Rockville Centre
  • Cayuga Medical Center, Ithaca
  • Jamestown Medical Oncology & Hematology, Jamestown
  • Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Niagara Falls
  • Oneida Health Cancer Care, Oneida
  • Roswell Park Hematology Oncology Northtowns, Williamsville
  • Roswell Park Hematology Oncology Southtowns, West Seneca
  • Roswell Park Hematology Oncology of Niagara, Niagara Falls
  • Roswell Park Urology, Niagara Falls
  • Southtowns Radiation Oncology, in partnership with Buffalo Medical Group and Catholic Health, Orchard Park
  • Upper Allegheny Health System, Olean, and Bradford, Pa.
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