Hospitals in Kootenai County are changing the landscape of available cancer services, spokespeople say, with aims of more treatment options and accessible physicians.
Northwest Specialty Hospital has announced it will open a new oncology program, Northwest Oncology, as early as next month.
This marks the first time the hospital in Post Falls has offered any cancer-related services.
The hospital sprang for the program, said CEO Vaughn Ward, after learning that a respected oncologist was leaving Kootenai Health's cancer center and might be leaving the area, too.
Creating the department provides Dr. Brian Samuels a new home in the area, Ward said.
"We saw this as an opportunity to try and keep a very, very good oncologist here, locally. We didn't want to see him leave the community," Ward said, adding that Samuels has helped organize the new department over the past several weeks. "We never would've created an oncology department, had it not been for Dr. Samuels."
Operating under Samuels' direction, Northwest Oncology will treat patients with cancer and blood disorders. Services will include diagnosis, treatment plans and chemotherapy.
NSH might add radiation services down the road, Ward said.
"That's a lot to bite off at the start," he said.
Seven to 10 new staff members will also be hired for the program, Ward said, including nurses, administration positions and physicians.
Samuels declined to comment on his transition because of ongoing contract discussions with Kootenai Health.
Before working at Kootenai Health, Samuels served on the faculty of the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois. He has over 30 years of experience and practices in internal medicine, medical oncology and hematology and oncology.
"We've built a very solid program," Ward said.
Kootenai Health's cancer center, which has locations in Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint, is in a transition stage, too.
Dr. Walt Fairfax, chief medical officer at Kootenai Health, rejected rumors that the cancer center has seen a sudden exodus of several oncologists.
The center has only had three full-time medical oncologists, Fairfax said. One of those, Haluk Tezcan, left last year and is now working for a pharmaceutical company.
Samuels has just left, too, due to contract issues Fairfax said he couldn't discuss.
The hospital will be happy to help patients transition to Samuels' care at his new position, Fairfax said.
"We will have the opportunity to help move (his patients) to Dr. Samuels' practice," Fairfax said. "We'll (transfer) all records and work with that transition."
Medical Oncologist Kevin Kim will remain working full-time at KMC, Fairfax said.
KMC also plans to bring more full-time medical oncologists on staff, he added.
The first, Dr. Kevin Mulvey, started this month as medical director of oncology services. Dr. Kimberly Morley will come on board later in the summer.
Mulvey is board certified in medical oncology and hematology, and previously worked at HealthEast Cancer Care near St. Paul, Minn.
Kootenai Health is looking for another medical oncologist to bring on soon, Fairfax added.
Most of the cancer center's oncology staff has been part-time or temporary, he explained. The goal now is to provide more full-time, local oncologists who patients can access easily.
"Essentially what our patients are asking for is there are doctors there all the time," he said.
Kootenai Health is also losing one of the six radiation oncologists the cancer contracts out of Spokane.
Dr. Karie-Lynn Kelly, who has been a primary radiation oncologist at the Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls cancer centers, is leaving to become medical director of a Spokane Valley oncology center.
"This is a significant professional opportunity for her. There are no problems with her continued performance," Fairfax said.
There will be no change in the litany of technical staff, nurses and pharmacists who help provide treatment at Kootenai Cancer, Fairfax added.
He understands patients are upset to lose Samuels, he said.
"All change is traumatic," Fairfax said. "But we have a story that's pretty good going forward. I'm really pleased about the future prospects for continued improvement of the cancer center."