By Dillon Tabish, 4-26-12
||Caption: File photo by Dan Testa/Flathead Beacon
When Kalispell resident Jan Ruff-Strait was diagnosed with Stage IIIA invasive breast cancer in late 2010, she and her husband feared they would have to leave home and travel for treatment. But that wasn't necessary.
"Although our world had just been turned upside down, there were people right here at home who were up to the task of ridding my body of this terrible disease," Ruff-Strait said recently. "We had everything we needed and never had to drive more than 20 minutes to get it."
Speaking at a press conference at Kalispell Regional Medical Center on April 24, Ruff-Strait's story of surviving breast cancer in her hometown illustrated the recent evolution of services at the hospital campus. Following years of investing in additional staff and the latest technology, administrators announced that Northwest Healthcare's Cancer Program and the Bass Breast Center have been recognized as institutions providing the "highest level of quality" to patients battling all forms of cancer and a full spectrum of breast diseases. The Commission on Cancer and the National Accreditation Program of Breast Centers both awarded Northwest Healthcare three-year accreditations with commendations after measuring the institutions’ quality of care against national standards.
"To us, this is like receiving straight A's on our cancer care report card and making the nationwide honor roll," said Melissa Hulvat, a Northwest Healthcare oncologist and chairperson on the Commission on Cancer. "This is not possible without an entire team of cancer experts who are uniquely devoted to patients."
Hospital staff said last year over 600 cancer patients were diagnosed and treated at KRMC and another 200 received some portion of care. The American Cancer Society estimates more than 1.6 million cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2012.
There are currently more than 1,500 cancer programs in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that are accredited through the CoC, or roughly 30 percent of all hospitals. Those accredited institutions handle nearly 80 percent of all diagnosed and/or treated cancer patients, according to the Commission on Cancer.
"We are proud to say that Kalispell Regional Medical Center compares to the cancer programs in our region, such as (St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula) and the (Billings Clinic Cancer Center), as well as all the way to Spokane and Seattle and across the country," Hulvat said. "It's not enough to say that you provide excellent care. You have to prove that you provide excellent care."
The CoC only grants one level of accreditation, and the rigorous process includes an on-site evaluation by a physician who surveys the level and scope of care provided as well as prevention and early detection efforts, survivorship and long-term follow-up care. National standards must be met for all types of cancers.
Northwest Healthcare passed the test on its first try.
"You have to prove that you have the latest technology and the right physicians and practitioners to administer them," Hulvat said. "But even more we have to prove that we bring these technologies to the patients."
Patients like Ruff-Strait.
"To have cancer is a learning experience," Ruff-Strait said, "and one of the things my husband and I learned is how fortunate we are to have this highly specialized team right in our own community."
For more information about Northwest Healthcare's Cancer Program, visit www.nwhc.org/cancer
, or call 756-2627. For more information about the Bass Breast Center, visit www.nwhc.org/basscenter
, or call 751-6488.
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