Columbus Regional Hospital’s expanded Cancer Center is expected to open in November, when it will offer more treatment areas and greater comforts for patients and family members.

The improvements are part of the hospital’s $30 million construction and expansion project to accommodate growing numbers of both cancer patients and others seeking emergency department care.

The number of patients seeking cancer treatment at Columbus Regional Hospital has increased about 24 percent over the past three years, said Pat Cruser, Cancer Center manager. That’s made existing space feel smaller and less comfortable for both patients and employees, she said.

A study commissioned by Columbus Regional indicated that the hospital would see a 20 percent increase in the need for cancer services over the next 10 years, with large growth in outpatient services, said Chris Raaf, vice president of hospital operations.

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“We wanted to make sure we were prepared,” he said.

An increased need for cancer services relates in part to the fact that better tools for diagnosing and treating cancer are catching the disease earlier when people are younger, said Kesley DeClue, spokeswoman for CRH.

Columbus Regional’s expansion adds 2,500 square feet to the 15,500-square-foot Cancer Center. At the same time, an additional 2,500 square feet of unfinished space is being built to accommodate future needs.

The addition will occupy what is currently courtyard space between Pavilion A, where the Cancer Center is located, and Pavilion B, both on the west side of the hospital campus.

The expanded Cancer Center will feature 14 treatment bays, four more than it currently offers, and they will be bigger and more state-of-the-art, including heated chairs. Two treatment areas will have beds, though, Cruser said.

Once the new space opens, current space will be renovated, with completion expected in February. Changes to the current area will result in more waiting room space, communal areas and aesthetic updates.

“Our waiting room space was overrun, and we needed to do something,” Cruser said.

A communal area in middle of the treatment space will help accommodate family members accompanying the patients.

Changes came from better understanding the needs of patients and staff, Raaf said.

“They wanted something open and bright and operations to be private when needed,” Raaf said.

Other features include additional rooms for exams and drawing blood, and an expanded pharmacy with the capability for cancer drugs to be mixed there.

The pharmacy and some of the exam and blood draw rooms will open in November, while more exam and blood draw rooms will be complete in February, DeClue said.

Renovations could cause a few detours for patients in accessing the center, but Raaf said plenty of staff members will be on hand to help.

One of the primary goals of the expansion is to offer comprehensive services for the region.

“As a community health leader, we want to be a leader in the treatment of care here,” DeClue said.

That means making treatment available close to home, she said.

Columbus Regional’s expansion project features a new radiation machine that will enhance cancer treatment. The Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator, a $2.4 million investment, delivers X-rays in a much higher dosage for killing cancer cells and does so in a more accurate way, radiation oncologist Dr. Rahul Dewan said.

No other hospital in the area, outside Indianapolis, has this type of machine, he said.

Dewan said one benefit is shorter treatment times, about 20 minutes instead of 35 to 40. That time adds up when a patient might have up to 40 treatments.

The new linear accelerator also can treat patients with heart issues that previously precluded them from surgery and lung cancer patients who previously were candidates for surgery, Dewan said.

“It is becoming the standard of care,” Dewan said.

The new linear accelerator was installed in July, giving the hospital a second such machine.

Electronic medical records also will used by the medical oncology department with the Cancer Center’s expansion.

When the hospital switched from paper to electronic medical records in 2012, the Cancer Center wasn’t part of the electronic change because it’s an outpatient center, and the provider didn’t offer an outpatient package, Raaf said.

Electronic medical records offer greater efficiency for doctors and nurses and increased patient safety because all records can be accessed and updated by those providing, Cruser said.

The hospital’s goal is to add electronic medical records to the rest of the Cancer Center next year, Cruser said.

About the project

What: Expansion of the Columbus Regional Hospital Cancer Center.

When: 2,500-square-foot addition opening in November, remodeled space opening in February.

Why: To accommodate a growing number of patients needing cancer services.

How: Adding four treatment rooms, larger waiting room space and common areas, expanding the pharmacy area, among other improvements.

Colors for a Cure, inside today

The Republic’s “Colors for a Cure” cancer awareness section, published each October, appears inside today’s edition as two 12-page sections. It includes inspirational stories of people who are battling cancer or have survived it, as well as available resources for families coping with different types of cancer.

Pink edition today

The main sections of today’s Republic are printed on pink newsprint to help raise awareness about breast cancer, the second-most deadly form of cancer among women. This is the fifth year The Republic has been printed on pink newsprint for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, observed during October.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.