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Let’s Hear It for the Home Team


Ochsner joins forces with Tom and Gayle Benson to create a one-of-a-kind cancer center

Cancer patients in the New Orleans area will be able to find top-notch cancer care closer to home thanks to the new Tom and Gayle Benson Cancer Center under construction at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson Parish. As one can correctly assume by the center’s name, Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife, Gayle, are providing instrumental support to this treatment facility. Through their charitable foundation, in June they committed $5 million to the center’s estimated $20 million price tag.

“We’re conducting a major philanthropic drive now with the cancer center as the centerpiece,” Dr. Patrick Quinlan, the CEO of Ochsner Health System, tells New Orleans Living. “That’s why this gift from the Bensons was so timely. Quite often with giving, you have to have leadership by example, and they provided it. At the same time, they demonstrated that the cancer center is good for the city and good for the state.” The center is opening in phases with final completion a year or two away.

Needless to say, Ochsner as well as the area’s other hospitals already do an excellent job of caring for cancer patients. Ochsner’s cancer team sees 2,200 new patients each year, more than any other organization in the state, and the health-care institution has forged cancer-related partnerships with LSU Health Sciences Center, Tulane University and Xavier University. Despite the strengths of existing local programs, many patients have felt compelled to travel to other parts of the country for treatment.

“This center will eliminate the need for people to leave the region for state-of-the-art cancer care,” Quinlan says. “It’s important to have cancer care close to home, because when you have cancer, it’s not just the individual involved. It’s a family affair. Travel imposes additional hardships to an already trying situation.” He adds that he does not believe that Louisiana necessarily has higher rates of cancer than other places in the United States, but that our state does have issues with later diagnoses, and hence later treatments and worse prognoses.

Ever since it opened in 1942, Ochsner has used a group practice model for caring for patients. Basically, the model entails an integrated approach to medical care in which a team of doctors manages each patient together. It was borrowed from the famed Mayo Clinic, and these days integrated care is gaining new currency across the national health-care landscape. It’s also a model that is particularly well-suited for cancer care.

“Cancer is a broad subject with many different therapies. Often, it takes a team approach,” says Quinlan. “That’s Ochsner’s strength: a team approach to complex diseases. Our integrated care model proves important for a complex disease like cancer where handoffs between subspecialists are vital and in-depth knowledge is essential to good care.”

The center itself will be repurposed from an existing research building and connected to the main facility by a walkway. Among other things, it will feature expanded oncology clinics with more than 50 semi-private stations for patients to receive chemotherapy. This chemotherapy treatment center is being situated on the top floor with tranquil, panoramic views of the Mississippi River.

Since chemotherapy is an essential but unpleasant and lengthy part of many cancer regimens, Ochsner wanted to create an ideal environment. The expanded spaces easily accommodate family members while being designed to strike a balance between privacy and openness. Too much privacy, after all, can make patients feel isolated. People who go through chemotherapy together form an instant support group, and the cancer center’s design will aim to foster those connections.

Considering that Ochsner is a nonprofit organization, it frequently depends on the largesse of benefactors like the Bensons, as well as from donors who may not be as wealthy but wish to contribute what they can.

“With the changes in health care, the nation will revert to what made health care possible in the past—philanthropy and public giving,” Quinlan says. “In some ways, Ochsner is underappreciated by many in the community but fully respected outside of it. I would invite those who believe in excellence and New Orleans to help maintain and expand our national reputation so we can have more capabilities, facilities and programs that meet the needs of our people.”