WILLMAR -- A free-standing aquarium, populated with colorful tropical fish and starfish, has been an unexpected hit with patients and families who spend time in the waiting room at the new Willmar Regional Cancer Center.
Patients who are there for chemotherapy appreciate the option of receiving their treatment in either a group setting or a semi-private bay, each with its own TV.
"It's just nice for them to be able to have the choice," said Barb Hoeft, director of the cancer center.
And patients and families really like the physical surroundings -- soothing colors, private corners, lots of windows that let in natural light, and easy-to-find waiting areas, corridors, nurses' stations and treatment rooms.
"They love it," said Dr. John Ling, the cancer center's radiation oncologist. "They feel they are being cared for."
A team spent months coming up with a design that would reflect the cancer center's goal: seamless care for cancer patients and their families, with one-stop access to everything from chemotherapy and radiation therapy to complementary therapy, cancer information and a navigator service to help connect people with a host of additional resources.
"They know where to go and what to expect. They can have quality care close to home," Hoeft said. "It's just a wonderful thing to be able to give them."
Many of the changes are subtle but make a big difference for patients. For instance, at one time, nurses mixed the chemotherapy solutions themselves. If patients needed lab work, they had to traverse the hospital or clinic building to have it done.
The cancer center now has the convenience of its own small lab. And an on-site pharmacy, staffed by hospital pharmacists, has freed chemotherapy nurses to spend more time with patients.
"It's working out well," said hospital pharmacist Beth Kadlec. "It's an extra resource. Now the nurses have time with the patients and can focus on the skills they're trained for."
Hoeft is especially excited about the addition of a nurse navigator, a new full-time program to address the many medical, financial, social and emotional needs that come with a diagnosis of cancer.
"We want people to feel they're getting the best care and show them we care," she said. "I can see that program is just going to grow."
Down the road, one of the cancer center's goals also is to develop a survivorship program to help patients live as well as possible once they've completed active cancer treatment.
The cancer center's new name, the Willmar Regional Cancer Center, signals the stronger, more cohesive identity the organization is striving for, Hoeft said.
"It's not just Willmar. We want to be the cancer center for the region. I think it better reflects what we really are," she said. "We've been waiting and waiting and waiting and now it's here."