Sharing a vision to elevate cancer care

Dr. Tim Mullett

The UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network (MCCAN) is proof of the power of building meaningful connections. From a small-scale start in 2006, the statewide network has grown to include 19 community hospitals.

It’s hard enough for patients and their loved ones to deal with a cancer diagnosis. The Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network was born from a simple idea. No one should need to leave Kentucky for cancer care.

Sixteen years ago, Dr. Michael Karpf was the UK executive vice president for health affairs. Markey was still years away from earning its National Cancer Institute designation. Kentucky had one of the highest cancer rates in the nation, and rural areas of the Commonwealth were consistently underserved. Karpf had a vision to expand cancer care, research and education. A network was the answer. Kentucky hospitals could become partners for the better of the Commonwealth.

Today, the network ensures people in Kentucky and surrounding states can get their care close to home. And when they need it, patients go to Markey for specialized services. The goal is to return patients to their community hospitals for continued care.

The three original Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network hospitals are still a part of the network: Harrison Memorial Hospital in Cynthiana, St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead and Rockcastle Regional Hospital in Mount Vernon. Today’s sites span the Commonwealth, and include Edgewood to the north, Middlesboro to the south, Paducah at the Missouri border and South Williamson in Eastern Kentucky at the West Virginia border.

“We’re a statewide network,’’ said Cheri Tolle, Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network administrative director. The network’s staff in Lexington has grown to serve the expanding number of hospitals. “There was one part-time employee in 2006. Today, we have a team of 13 full-time employees that focuses on quality, compliance, education, communications and more.”

A focus on quality

Affiliate hospitals set the standard for cancer care in Kentucky. Every affiliate hospital must earn accreditation from the Commission on Cancer (CoC). The accreditation is a sign of quality, leadership and expertise. And, as important, it’s a sign of each hospital’s commitment to the community it serves. Markey helps hospitals achieve and maintain the rigorous accreditation.

A network of hospitals throughout Kentucky does more than ensure quality cancer care. It means more patients get diagnosed at an earlier stage when there are better treatment options. And they get care backed by the resources of Markey — an academic medical center and Kentucky’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center.

Network hospitals also have access to a wide range of supportive resources, including:

  • Professional education and training
  • Streamlined patient referral process
  • Community outreach and screening
  • Marketing and public relations

These resources can be tailored to the specific needs of individual hospitals and their communities.

Serving hospitals of all sizes

Affiliate Network hospitals vary in size and service area. “It’s not just for one type of hospital. It’s for hospitals that have a commitment to high-quality cancer care in their communities,” Tolle said. “You can be a small 25-bed facility or a large 500-bed facility. There’s a place for you in the affiliate network if you share our vision.”

Rockcastle Regional is small, but it offers medical oncology services, chemotherapy and some surgical procedures. “They provide services that many other hospitals of their size can’t,” Tolle said. “They had a vision and were committed to providing those cancer services close to home.” At the other end of the spectrum is St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Edgewood. One of the largest hospitals in the greater Cincinnati area, it has a new state-of-the-art cancer center and continues to value its membership with the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network. No matter the size, all affiliate hospitals provide vital care to the communities they serve.

Setting an example

The idea of a statewide network was unique when the Markey network began. But not anymore. Today, the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network has caught the attention of others who want to learn from its success. Both the National Cancer Institute and the Commission on Cancer are interested in improving the quality of rural cancer care programs. Markey has been asked to provide its expertise in national conversations and task force representation.

Other NCI-Designated Cancer Centers are also hoping to duplicate Markey’s success. Staff from the University of Iowa visited Kentucky to learn more about expanding cancer care in rural communities. Markey staff in turn offered consultation and support. The collaboration between the two medical centers has led to joint research papers and a five-year NCI grant award to establish the Iowa Cancer Affiliate Network.

The next 15 years

There’s no doubt the Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network has made a positive impact in Kentucky. But what will the future hold?

Tolle hopes to see an expansion into neighboring states. West Virginia, she notes, doesn’t have an NCI-Designated Cancer Center. And she wants to continue tailoring services to the needs of existing member sites.

“I’m so impressed with the network. If you had told me 15 years ago where we would be now, I would’ve been amazed.”

Cheri Tolle

“Our sites look different than they did 15 years ago, and it’s exciting to see the growth,” Tolle said. “We have grown as an academic medical center with our clinical and research expertise. We’ve also seen the capacity for clinical and research expertise grow at many of the affiliate sites, too.

“I’m so impressed with the network. If you had told me 15 years ago where we would be now, I would’ve been amazed.”

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

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    Patient Stories-Cancer