By Kyle LoJacono
Breast health in East Pasco County took a big step forward Oct. 4 while also lessening the paces required for treatment.
That’s the day Florida Hospital Zephyrhills opened its Simpson Breast Health Center.
Alexa Stinnette, manager of the new center, said the 9,000-square-foot facility not only offers state-of-the-art technology and treatment options to the community, but also brings diagnosis, treatment, surgery, rehabilitation and education together in one location on the hospital’s grounds, 7050 US 301.
“Before this, we had to be in four different hallways,” Stinnette said. “We had to take them from one corner of the hospital to the other. These patients are semiundressed, so that was part of the concern for us.”
Hospital president and CEO Doug Duffield said much of the discretion issue is negated by the inclusiveness of the center.
“I’ve been down there almost daily for three months,” Duffield said. “We had our staff, physicians and architects take part in the design from the start. We had several patients who were part of it to see how best to flow patients through the facility so it’s discreet and private.”
Stinnette said that male patients will also be kept in special rooms to protect their privacy.
Not only does it take only a few steps to get from one area to the other, but there are also curtains everywhere to help with privacy.
Laurie Hitzl, director of imaging services at the hospital, said having everything together is a huge timesaver.
“The imaging is all in one place, so it limits the time between mammogram to the time that they’re actually diagnosed,” Hitzl said. “It could have taken weeks, and by having everything within the team, we’re able to shorten that to days. … If it’s my family, or if it was me or one of my best friends that was going in, I would want to be able to know right away. The longer the wait it gets in your mind. It’s just the right thing to do for the community.”
Duffield added, “What used to take weeks or longer can now be done in a matter of hours and days, and I think that’s important when you go through a screening mammogram and they find something. Taking two weeks to find out if it’s truly something or not, you want to know that within a day so you can sleep at night.”
Also easing the process is the fact that patients will have a guide while at the center.
“The nurse navigator is going to be our facilitator between our patient, the technologist, the manager, all of physicians and the hospital,” Stinnette said. “Her job will be to assist the patient on their journey. Hopefully, for most, they won’t have to deal with breast disease and continue without that worry. For a patient with breast cancer, the navigator will help them with where to turn and what to do.”
There is also educational material in the center to better inform patients about their condition and care.
Part of that teaching is moving the hospital’s monthly breast health conference to the center. The program, which started three years ago, brings doctors, outside surgeons and oncologists to discuss new treatments and other elements of breast health. The group meets every third Thursday starting at 12:30 p.m.
Stinnette said the center’s creation began more than three years ago with community outreach.
“It started with the patients,” Stinnette said. “They wanted to have a comprehensive center. They didn’t want to go to other imaging centers and having part of their work done at one facility and another.”
Carolyn Sentelik, executive director of the hospital’s foundation, said fundraising was a big part of building the new facility.
The center was named after Wilton and Kathy Simpson, who gave $250,000. Sentelik said that is the single largest gift since the hospital opened in 1985. In total, the foundation raised more than $1.5 million through donations.
Duffield said fundraising was key for the nonprofit hospital to bring such specialized care to East Pasco.
“Probably close to 100 percent of the funds for this center were raised by the community,” Duffield said. “I guess that just goes to show how committed this community is to health and women’s health services. … It’s a hospital-community partnership to make this happen.”
Sentelik said she was emotional when she saw the center unveiled.
“The first time that I walked through, I literally had big tears forming in my eyes,” Sentelik said. “It’s something that I’d dreamt about, along with the whole community. The pictures, the artist’s rendering and designing the flow of the facility so it made sense from a patient’s perspective. Too see all of that come to fruition is a very emotional. I almost felt like I was on HGTV and one of those people who walk in their house that just got redone.”
Sentelik added that having something like this will make those in the area become more likely to get their annual mammograms on time.
“I know I will,” Sentelik said. “For me it’s any excuse in the world from I have a headache today to make me not do it. Now I don’t have that excuse. It’s right here. There’s no reason to not get that.”
Sentelik’s sentiments hit home for Stinnette.
“I had a friend die of breast cancer at the age of 41, and the promise she had me make to her was that I could continue to care for others,” Stinnette said. “This is helping me do that today.”
To make an appointment at the center, call (813) 783-8378.
Breast cancer is the second most frequently diagnosed cancer in women after skin cancer, according the American Cancer Society. The organization’s most recent estimates for breast cancer in the United States during 2012 are:
–About 226,870 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women
–About 63,000 new cases of carcinoma in situ (noninvasive) will be found
–About 39,510 deaths from breast cancer in women