When I joined AdventHealth Orlando in December 2019, I had a clear vision for our Mesothelioma International Treatment Program. With the opening of our new thoracic surgery unit, the very first one in the entire AdventHealth system, that vision is now a reality.
Our new floor provides advanced medical and surgical care for patients with thoracic problems, with the focus on the treatment of patients diagnosed with mesothelioma by specialists and experts across many disciplines.
The unit has 36 patient beds in a hotel-style environment with space for families to spend the night, with views from large windows and a capable, responsible and courteous nursing staff.
Planning, building and opening the thoracic surgery progressive care unit in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic required an unwavering commitment of our leadership. Our clinical administration team, along with health care providers of all areas, conducted weekly teleconferencing to provide guidance and updates on the construction, leading us to successfully open our unit on schedule.
We’ve already treated over 40 patients and have kept the unit occupancy rate at 95% since its opening. I’m proud of the highly skilled and motivated thoracic team we were able to attract to our unit.
The benefits of a specialized thoracic surgery floor at AdventHealth Cancer Institute are unlike anything else available to treat patients with mesothelioma, and I believe it’s only the beginning of what our program has to offer.
Thoracic Surgery Floor Specialists Improve Patient Experience
The specialized care on this unit will consolidate services from across the hospital. Patients have direct access to operating room staff, radiology imaging and an expert team of nurses, clinicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, surgeons, residents, dietitians and respiratory therapists on site.
With services like a portable X-ray machine that stays on the thoracic surgery floor, patients won’t need to travel across the hospital for a simple chest X-ray. Patients can also remain in the unit for many rehabilitation activities and will be provided with a thoracic walker to perform their daily floor walks.
When we were looking for a specific site in the hospital, it was of paramount importance for me that all patients had access to all our program’s benefits. For instance, the thoracic surgery floor is shaped like a long loop, so we always see the patients and encourage their daily activities. Its design allows patients to perform their post-surgical exercise for mesothelioma with specialized walkers and yards marked on the floor, right outside their room.
In addition to mesothelioma patients, the thoracic surgery floor can also accommodate lung cancer patients, and soon, esophageal cancer patients.
One of my inspirations for establishing this new unit was my experience with esophageal cancer patients who could go to different floors after surgery. With a centralized floor for thoracic surgeries, the medical team and I can recognize signs of problems before they happen and act.
We have empowered our nursing staff to make the right decisions for our patients and connect with our team at any time. Patients will receive the same treatment protocols across the same recovery pathway.
Our team has already welcomed Dr. Sebastian de La Fuente from Argentina, a surgical oncologist who trained at Duke University and Moffit Cancer Center, as part of our abdominal mesothelioma team. Our international program continues to grow, and these experts forge the way to better treatment outcomes and longer survival times for patients with this terrible disease.
New Layout Streamlines the Patient Care Journey
A patient scheduled for mesothelioma surgery will arrive at our unit the day before the procedure. On arrival, they’ll receive hydration, undergo a comprehensive laboratory blood work, a chest X-ray, and have a chance to meet the health care team. After surgery, patients spend the first night in the intensive care unit for close observation. Then, they are transitioned to our new thoracic unit for recovery.
We have strict and set goals for every patient’s recovery, using checkpoints to guide their progress. It’s a program that helps patients get home faster and with fewer complications. It’s a regimen I firmly believe in, and I’ve developed an educational presentation for nurses with all expectations for a patient’s progress.
We have learned that information is of utmost importance for families, too. We now have a conference room where we present treatment options and clinical trial information to patients and their families. There’s no need to book this room in advance, and family members get to take part in the care of their loved ones.
Having mesothelioma and thoracic surgery patients together on one floor means that patients don’t feel isolated by their condition. Seeing others combat mesothelioma alongside them on the same unit takes away the doom and gloom surrounding their diagnosis and treatment.
In my personal professional experience, patients get better faster and with a good outlook when they see others with the same problem recovering a few days ahead of them. It transforms a hospital floor into a health and wellness floor.
At the heart of the new thoracic surgery expansion is a state-of-the-art nursing station. There are few units similar in the whole country. The vital signs monitoring system tracks the patient’s condition wherever they are throughout the hospital. It is monitored in a central location in the entire hospital grounds.
If a patient has an abnormal vital sign, a message is sent to the nurse responsible for that patient, then the message escalates every two minutes to the nurse supervisor, nurse manager and the attending physician. As patients move from tower to tower, the nursing station receives the centralized monitoring data. It’s incredible.
If a patient has an irregular heart rate on a different floor, their nurse on the thoracic surgery unit receives an alert. If the nurse is unavailable, the call rolls over to the manager and finally to the attending physician. Even when the patient is away from the unit, the medical team has the latest information available at their fingertips.
I have also secured a room where I spend my time planning the day for my patients and preparing my teaching lectures for the staff. This office is located right on the thoracic floor unit so the house staff has access to me while I’m in my office, something I believe is integral to this new endeavor’s success. I want the patients and our team to know I’m present.
This unique floor that was once my vision is now a reality and a part of the Mesothelioma International Treatment Program’s identity.
Surgical Floor Serves as an International Destination for Mesothelioma Treatment
If Dr. David Sugarbaker could see what we’ve accomplished, I think he’d be very proud. When he was developing a new standard for mesothelioma treatment, his goal was always to bring hope to patients. I believe we’ve built a foundation for that hope in central Florida.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard Dr. Sugarbaker saying “focused attention and clarity of purpose” while caring for our patients. He would be thrilled we’ve created a new program to provide treatment options and improve a patient’s well-being.
With new treatments and surgical procedures continually receiving FDA-approval, more patients have come to me saying, “I didn’t know you could operate on mesothelioma!” Raising awareness about this disease will continue to spread hope throughout the mesothelioma community.
Very few centers across the nation offer the surgical services and support we’ve built for mesothelioma and thoracic cancers. Dr. George Simon, a medical oncologist, has joined our combined program with Moffit Cancer Center. We are currently designing new trials and hope to start enrolling patients in the early part of 2021.
AdventHealth Orlando has become synonymous with whole-patient health care. In the best interest of patients, we see them as a whole person and not just a disease. I believe that when a mesothelioma patient gets sick, the whole family feels the effects.
We strive for a holistic program that offers complete care, a clear treatment plan and as little as possible stress during their hospital stay.
Orlando is already an international destination for tourists and entertainment, but now we’re offering the world a health care destination for patients with malignant mesothelioma.
As we continue to grow, I doubt that patients and world-renowned physicians alike will find anything that compares to the Mesothelioma International Treatment Program we’ve built at AdventHealth Orlando.
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