A specialist in ovarian cancer diagnosis and treatment, Ueland leads a highly experienced team of surgeons he oversees as professor and director of gynecologic oncology. Ueland uses his years of experience at Markey every day to help patients, both in his clinical practice and his role overseeing Markey’s clinical operations.
We caught up with Ueland to talk about his first year in his new role, expansion of cancer facilities, and his vision for the future of Markey.
It’s been a genuine privilege to work with our clinical leadership team, Dr. Mark Evers, Dr. Patty Hughes, Nina Barnes and Mark Filburn and all the providers here at Markey because of everyone’s collective devotion to patient care. There is a pervasive culture of excellence that makes me proud to be part of the Markey mission. When you have that mindset, it makes an administrator’s role more rewarding and enjoyable. I came to the University of Kentucky for training 30 years ago, so I understand our history and the Markey journey. That perspective gives me a deeper understanding and loyalty to this cancer center.
This year, in particular, has been an exciting one – uniquely challenging, but also gratifying. Our administrative team has worked hard to make adjustments to keep our patients, faculty and staff safe during the pandemic. These changes allowed us to continue caring for our patients when most hospital clinics slowed dramatically due to COVID-19. I am very proud of our faculty and staff for their commitment to our patients during this time.
UK HealthCare recently invested $15 million to improve the clinical space at Markey. We are twothirds of the way through with the clinical facility expansion, which touches almost everyone in the cancer center.
We converted our inpatient ward on the second floor of the Ben F. Roach Building to an outpatient Head, Neck and Respiratory clinic, which has helped us grow the lung and thoracic cancer programs over this past year. We’ve also renovated and expanded outpatient chemotherapy and infusion, increasing our total number of infusion chairs to 40. This increase will significantly improve access to our clinical and research infusions. We also remodeled the third floor for a specialty inpatient Women’s Care Unit. We are now embarking on renovations for the Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplantation clinics on the first floor of the Roach Building.
Our cancer center patient visits are growing 10-15 percent each year, so based on projections, these facility expansions will likely reach capacity again by 2023. We are working closely with UK HealthCare administrators to design and build a freestanding, comprehensive ambulatory cancer center. We are also working on future initiatives with the Markey Cancer Center at Lexington Clinic.
You mention Markey’s new collaboration with Markey Cancer Center at Lexington Clinic. How has this collaboration helped improve the patient experience?
It has been a meaningful collaboration. Markey Cancer Center at Lexington Clinic has talented specialists. The Lexington Clinic has been a highly regarded group practice long before the partnership, and we can both learn from the other.
Historically, Markey has had much success in focusing on complex cancers, recurrent cancers and less common malignancies. At the same time, providers at the Markey Cancer Center at Lexington Clinic provide quality care and ease of access for many of Kentucky’s most common cancers. Our goal is to have a seamless partnership where patients can move through our health care system efficiently and effectively, receiving exceptional cancer care without leaving the state. And after our first year together, I am encouraged that we are heading in the right direction. Now patients can have the best of both worlds.
As chief of Markey’s Gynecologic Oncology division, you’ve overseen a major expansion with the telehealth program. Why is having different outlets to connect with patients important?
Our Markey telehealth experience started several years ago in the gynecologic oncology clinic. This program preceded the pandemic and relied on provider-to-provider connections, so the patient had to go to their local doctor’s office for their visit.
The advantage of telehealth is that it allows UK HealthCare to reach patients who may otherwise have difficulty traveling to Lexington. Many patients prefer an in-person visit, but telehealth is a welcome opportunity for those who may not want to travel several hours in the snow for a 15-minute doctor visit.
When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded this year, national telehealth regulations were relaxed, which permitted a direct patient-to-provider experience. This modification allowed our patients to complete the encounter using their home computer, tablet or smartphone. They no longer had to travel to their local doctor’s office. While not as comprehensive as an in-person visit, telehealth does provide a very convenient and useful service for our patients, particularly during the height of the pandemic. We continue to look for ways to improve the virtual experience.
COVID-19 is something everyone has had to deal with in various ways. How has Markey continued to offer the high standard of patient care and clinical trials despite it?
March was a trying time because there was very little information available about the disease. We spent long nights creating policies to ensure our patients and Markey personnel remained safe. That led to several changes that remain in place today, including patient screening, limited visitation, universal viral precautions, social distancing and targeted viral testing. I’m very appreciative of Mark Filburn and our entire clinical affairs team for working so hard to establish and implement these changes. Six months later, we know a great deal more, and I am proud to say we got most of it right.
Markey was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as a Top 50 Cancer Center once again this year. What does this continuing recognition tell you about Markey’s work?
We are privileged to have this national recognition once again. It’s an important yardstick and a telling reflection of our devoted Markey doctors and staff.
Like everyone, we look forward to the rankings each year. We are proud to be ranked in the top 30, but we aren’t satisfied. That said, our focus remains on the quality and effectiveness of our care, patient safety and clinical outcomes. The expectation is that if we do well by our patients, the accolades will follow. We continue to look for ways to improve, which may help explain our ascent in the rankings.
There’s been so much growth over the last year in both physical spaces and approach to treatment. Looking forward, what direction is clinical care going at Markey?
Over the past five years, the number of ambulatory visits to the cancer center has doubled. That success means we are reaching more Kentuckians, but it also helps fund programmatic growth. We continue to focus on Kentucky’s most common cancers, expanding our lung, breast and gastrointestinal programs. We are also excited about the evolution of two other programs, cancer genomics and radiopharmaceutical therapy.
In some ways, we are a victim of our success. At this pace, we will outgrow our renovated space in the next few years, so we are actively planning a new, comprehensive ambulatory cancer building. This building will integrate all clinical cancer services, including patient care, lab, infusion and pharmacy. It will also include novel programs like outpatient bone marrow transplantation, state-of-the-art targeted infusion therapy, and comprehensive clinical research.
Our five-year collective vision for the cancer center is to mature the Lexington Clinic collaboration, focus on our application to become an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center, and design and build a new, comprehensive cancer facility. This will keep us busy, but there is greatness on the horizon.