Val Verde Regional Medical Center administrators on Wednesday assured patients of a local cancer clinic work is being done to look at opening a treatment facility at the hospital.
About a dozen patients and former patients of Rio Bravo Cancer and Blood Clinic of Del Rio attended Wednesday’s hospital board meeting to voice support for such a clinic.
Before members of the public were invited to speak, district board president Raul Alatorre informed those present that the board allowed a three-minute limit for individual presentations. He also told members of the public board members could not respond to their comments.
Mary Alice Gomez said she believed “city politics” sometimes held back planned developments or projects, and she noted she is “really behind” the hospital taking over the work of Dr. Susan Taylor and her Rio Bravo Cancer and Blood Clinic.
Carole Mitchell commended the hospital on the services it has established here over the past few years, but said the facility “needed to work on cancer treatment.” She also told the story of her own cancer journey.
“The last time I was in here was last January, and it was my understanding that it was going to happen, that we’d would have an infusion center here, and nothing has happened. So please, it would save hundreds of lives, of people who can’t afford or don’t have the ability to travel to be treated. We should have it here,” Mitchell said.
Area residents Jim Butterworth, Arne Arvidson, Sandra Sauceda and Elizabeth Minney also all spoke in favor of the hospital opening a cancer treatment clinic, telling personal stories of how Taylor and her clinic had helped them.
Diego Taylor, Rio Bravo Cancer and Blood administrator and Dr. Susan Taylor’s son, voiced frustrations about negotiating with the hospital.
“We’d like to know what’s going to happen, where are we going? . . .We’ve heard through back channels; yes, it’s a done deal, but when we call and we email, we don’t hear anything. Patients come into the clinic and they ask, ‘What’s going on?’ And some of them are cautiously optimistic and others (say), ‘The hospital? You think they’re going to do something?’ (The opinions are) split fifty-fifty,” Taylor said.
He reviewed the high cost of drugs for treatment at the clinic and said, “Nationwide, three oncology clinics a week are closing because of the disparity between what Medicare pays today for the treatments and what it costs.”
After members of the public had finished addressing the board, Val Verde Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Linda Walker gave the two boards a report on the development of the hospital’s inpatient infusion center and the work staff has done to research the development of a cancer clinic inside the hospital.
“We have been reached out to by Dr. Taylor, by Diego, and we’ve had different conversations with Dr. Taylor, with Diego. In fact myself and the CFO both went over and visited with them and toured the clinic. We did get some financial information to look at, financial viability.
“I just want to clear something up: The 340B drug program is a hospital program. Yes, we can get the chemo drugs that they’re referring to, the hospital can get them at a reduced price, but they have to be administered within the four walls of this hospital. They cannot be given in Dr. Taylor’s clinic. That’s a prohibiting factor. I just want to make sure we are clear on that,” Walker said.
“We know that there are infusions and injections that they are doing in their clinic that could be offloaded onto the hospital. We can get those drugs at a reduced cost, so we started looking at how can we partner with them to do that,” she added.
Walker described the development of a cancer treatment clinic as a “complex and highly-regulated” issue.
“We are working on this,” Walker said.
She also addressed the physical changes that would need to be made to the hospital to accommodate the kind of treatments being administered at Taylor’s clinic.
She said funds had been budgeted to construct “an 800 room,” which includes a negative pressure room and a mixing room that includes a “very specific hood.”
She reviewed the process of looking at various sites inside the hospital where such a facility could be placed, adding staff had even brought in an architect to give advice about the placement.
Walker said revamping the hospital’s pharmacy alone would cost $1.3 million.
“So what is the next step? I know that’s why you’re all here. You do deserve to have this service line. We have been looking at it. Do we have a magic answer? We do not. There are certain barriers that we are trying to figure a way around,” Walker said.
She also said the hospital cannot obtain the chemo drugs and transfer them to Taylor’s office.
After discussing several other options she and the hospital staff have reviewed, Walked said, “So what I would like to make sure everyone in this room understands is that we as a hospital have not been silent for seven months. We have looked at this extensively from three, four, five different directions. I will be very honest with you: When I spoke to Dr. Taylor about being our medical director, she said she would have to think about it. It wasn’t really something she had thought about, but all options are on the table. So we have had dialogue about that. We have hired an architect to take a look at two different spaces. We have spent significant money at looking at how can we bring this service line into the hospital to take it out of Dr. Taylor’s practice because we cannot purchase the 340B drugs and put them in her practice.”
To get such a facility up and running in the hospital would be an “18- to 24-month process,” she said.