Tag Archive for: FirstHealth

Cancer Care’s One-Stop Shop

From BusinessNC.com

FirstHealth of the Carolinas’ four-story, $60 million cancer center is set to break ground in early 2021 with an anticipated opening in November 2022. The new building, rendered above, will be a one-stop shop for cancer patients to get diagnoses, treatments and therapeutic support.

When Pinehurst-based FirstHealth of the Carolinas opens its one-stop shop cancer center in 2022, the 15-county medical network will have a centralized diagnosis and care center, a headquarters for its clinical trials and a check mark on the to-do list of priorities set by new CEO Mickey Foster.

Construction on the four-story, $60 million cancer center on Page Road North, near Moore Regional Hospital, will begin in 2021 following completion of a four-story parking garage. The target opening date is November 2022. Foster estimates about $30 million for the 120,000-square-foot center will be raised through a philanthropy campaign launching in January. However, people have already been donating to the project since November.

“The rates for cancer in our 15 counties is expected to grow, so we need to build a comprehensive cancer center,” says Foster, who joined FirstHealth in July after serving as president of Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro. “I have had the opportunity to oversee several cancer programs in my career, and there is a need to have all the support services under one roof. It creates a one-stop shop for care for all of our cancer patients.”

Foster joined FirstHealth with three main goals: “First, we want to be the best place to work in the county. We are in the top 4% nationally [according to Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems], so we want to create the best culture. Second, we want to be a health system that is a zero-harm organization. There are still too many harm events in health care. We want to be a system with zero: no falls, no injuries, no infections. Third is to build a destination for cancer care.”

Informal talks about a centralized cancer center began four years ago but weren’t concrete until last summer.

“We have outstanding services, but they’re spread out across our campus,” says Dan Barnes, president of FirstHealth’s physicians group and vice president of oncology services. “This [new center] allows patients to be seen from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship and be patient-centered and patient-focused. It allows us to bring physicians and treatment under one roof and increase support services such as financial counseling and palliative care.”

The project received full support from the Pinehurst Village Council and the Village of Pinehurst, Foster says. Space will be reserved for meditation and support groups, as well as rooms designated for exercise. “We want to create a more healing and natural setting that will differentiate us from other places,” he says. “It’s a game changer for cancer care in this region.”

One floor will house research and clinical trials, such as those headed by pulmonary specialist Michael Pritchett, director of the Chest Center of the Carolinas at FirstHealth and an employee of Pinehurst Medical Clinic. Last April, Pritchett was the first in the world to demonstrate work with a robotic-assisted catheter-based device to collect samples for lung cancer diagnosis. Pritchett performed his first procedure last March and as of mid-November, he had seen about 60 cases.

“We have the pathologist sitting in the room, so they put it on a slide, and we get immediate feedback as to whether it’s malignant or not,” he says. “So when I wake you up, we will tell you what we found. We can biopsy multiple lesions, so it’s really a game changer for us.”

The future cancer center’s central location is imperative in reaching the 15-county area beyond the 16,000 people of Pinehurst, Pritchett says. “We don’t want them to drive past us and have to go to Duke or UNC.”

Pritchett isn’t the only one working on research at the new cancer center. On the same floor in the building, gynecologic oncologist Michael Sundborg will continue administering a Gynecologic Oncology Group Foundation trial to assess a chemo treatment for advanced cervical cancer.

Sundborg has two patients enrolled in the six-month trial designed to prompt the immune system to seek and destroy cancer. The GOG Foundation chose FirstHealth to test the therapies in a hybrid trial, meaning it’s sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and is an industry trial, so the medication is free. “We’re shooting smart missiles. We’re a sniper,” Sundborg says. “This is the evolution of cancer therapy.”

Sundborg says Moore County has seen a 7% increase in cancer diagnoses annually, compared with a national average of about 3%. It’s the leading cause of death, according to the 2018 State of the County Health Report. He attributes it to the region’s relatively older population and patients in nearby rural coastal areas without access to care. “But we’re doing something for them. We’re changing life spans.”

Both Sundborg and Pritchett have begun their research in their current roles, but the new cancer center will make “a substantial footprint” in care, Sundborg says.

Foster did not detail the number of jobs that may be created with the completion of the center but anticipates recruiting additional physicians, nurses, support staff and medical-office assistants for the new center. Health care and social assistance are listed by the N.C. Department of Commerce Labor & Economic Analysis Division as the top employers in the county with 9,457 workers, or 26.2% of the total workforce.

“I have plenty of offers all the time to go other places, and I have no desire to go anywhere,” Pritchett says. “I can do all these things, [including] publish research, right here in my own community.”


FirstHealth Clinical Trials Make Impact

Cancer clinical trial participant at FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst, NC

Clinical trial patient Ken Hill with Dr. Charles Kuzma and nurse Pam Mason. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

From: ThePilot.com, Jan 7, 2020
by Laura Douglass

Tucked into a corner of FirstHealth’s Outpatient Cancer Center in Pinehurst, Dr. Charles Kuzma’s unassuming office belies the important work that begins here.

As the institutional principal investigator of clinical trials for FirstHealth of the Carolinas, he spends his days collaborating with numerous doctors and four department coordinators who manage up to 30 active clinical trial studies involving hundreds of patients.

“The advanced medical treatments that we enjoy today are thanks in part to medical research,” Kuzma said. “Patients elect to participate in a research study that not only could improve their health or condition, but also could improve health care in the future for many others.”

In 2019, FirstHealth made history twice: enrolling the first patient into a worldwide trial testing the efficacy and safety of immune therapies designed to battle cervical cancer, and as the first health care system in the nation to participate in a clinical study with Intuitive Surgical’s ion endoluminal system, a catheter-based, robotic-assisted technology.

“Everything we do with patient care is based on another patient going before them in the treatment.”

Advancing the Science

FirstHealth initiated its clinical trials program in the early 1990s with one doctor and one coordinator. But interest had waned prior to Kuzma’s arrival.

A medical oncologist/hematologist and U.S. Navy veteran, he was recruited by FirstHealth in 2009 to help reinvigorate the program. At the time, there were only three patients actively enrolled.

One of his earliest goals was to bring FirstHealth into the Southeast Cancer Consortium, a community network of private practices and public hospitals involved in cancer clinical research.

“There is strength in numbers,” Kuzma said, noting it can be challenging for a single institution to recruit enough patients for a study.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) sponsors most of the clinical trials at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital. Pharmaceutical or drug companies also sponsor clinical trials, while others may be sponsored by cancer research facilities at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University.

FirstHealth’s trials focus primarily on breast cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and prostate cancer.

“You don’t make money with this. What you do is advance the science and outcome of your patients,” Kuzma said. “But we also have a responsibility to the hospital to not be a money loser. It’s not about making money, but we try not to lose too much.”

However, “success breeds success,” and smaller trials conducted by FirstHealth attracted interest for bigger trials.

“With any clinical research you have to make sure the data is valid because it could lead to change of standard of care,” Kuzma said. “We are held to a very high standard to make sure the data that is turned in is pristine.”

Currently, there are 22 clinical trials underway at FirstHealth dedicated to cancer research, while the hospital as a whole is conducting approximately 10 non-oncology trials for other medical conditions.

Patients include folks like Pinehurst resident Ken Hill, who discovered he has chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in 2012, when he was being treated for skin cancer.

When a routine blood scan three years later revealed a saturation of cancer cells, Kuzma recommended Hill for a clinical trial of a drug that could be added to his infusion regimen. The sponsor of the trial, Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology, funded the cost of the treatment.

Within a few months, bone marrow scans began tracking a remarkable reduction in the cancer cell saturation in Hill’s blood.

Those positive outcomes have continued as part of Hill’s ongoing treatment in the clinical trials program. In addition, he and his wife, Betty, now serve on a peer support advocacy group sponsored by the Southeast Clinical Oncology Research Consortium.

One of the horrible things about cancer is it paints you in a corner,” said Kuzma. “This program gives patients another opportunity to improve.”

Clinical trials team at FirstHealth of the Carolinas in Pinehurst NC

First Health clinical trials team. L-R: Tina Thompson, Regulatory Coordinator Erin Anderson, Study Coordinator Dr. Charles Kuzma, Institutional Principal Investigator Pam Mason, R.N., Study Coordinator Natalie McBride, MHA, RRT, Study Coordinator Amy Boyette, R.N., Study Coordinator Julie Williams, Ph.D, MHA, Study Coordinator. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot

Importantly, patients in a clinical trial are all volunteers and they can expect to receive the current standard of care or a new treatment that the study sponsors believe is as good as or better than the standard of care.

Kuzma added that having a robust clinical trials program is also in the best interests of FirstHealth.

“Each clinical trial takes you farther down the road. For example, breast cancer treatment is so different now than in years past because some patients were selfless in their approach.”

Clinical trials are conducted in stages that are ranked within four progressive phases — from early investigative work to continuing research into long-term use and side effects.

Kuzma said most clinical trials conducted at FirstHealth are classified as Phase II or Phase III studies.

A patient’s eligibility for a clinical trial is determined by a participating physician and research nurse, but the final decision whether or not to participate is made by the patient themselves.

“Every trial has different eligibility criteria. And patients who go into a trial are generally healthier and a bit more motivated,” Kuzma said.

But it can be a scary process for patients because the selection is randomized to eliminate bias.

“There is an equal chance for the patient to be on either side of the treatment question. The patient doesn’t have a say and the hospital does not have a say,” he said. “We encourage participation but we are not insistent on it.”

Patients and their families seeking more information about clinical trials at FirstHealth of the Carolinas can visit www.firsthealth.org/reference/clinical-trials or talk with their own physician.

Thomas Takes Part in Clinical Trial

Cancer survivor takes part in preventive cancer clinical trial.Twin sisters Marlene Thomas and Darlene Reeves of Pinehurst have always shared. Not only do they share the same physical features and the same dental hygienist job (one works three days a week and the other two, then they switch), but they also experienced similar types of cancer.

In May 2013, Reeves was diagnosed with stage 3C primary peritoneal carcinoma, a type of cancer that can originate from the same type of cell that lines the surface of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. She was successfully treated and is now back in the dental hygienist chair.

Since they share the same DNA, Thomas decided to get checked out and underwent a hysterectomy in April 2014. Given her sister’s history, Thomas’ gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Michael Sundborg of FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center, analyzed the removed ovary and uterus and found stage 3A low-grade serous ovarian cancer. This is less common and aggressive than high-grade types of ovarian cancer but is resistant to many kinds of chemotherapy and carries a high likelihood of relapse after treatment.

Thomas’ five months of chemotherapy ended in September 2014, and Dr. Sundborg determined her clear of cancer. He told her that her history would make her a good candidate for a new “cancer control” clinical trial sponsored by Gynecologic Oncology Group. The study’s goal was to determine if diet and exercise can help control cancer recurrence in patients who were successfully treated for low-grade serous ovarian cancer. The study hosted two groups — patients in a test group were assigned a life coach who helped patients adopt a healthful diet and exercise regimen and patients in the control group were counseled to continue their normal daily habits and were given a pedometer to track activity. Thomas agreed to participate and was randomly assigned to the latter control group, though she admits she would have preferred to be in the test group with the life coach.

Every six months of the two-year trial, Thomas completed a questionnaire and occasionally had blood drawn at FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center that was analyzed by the study’s researchers. Her active participation in the study ended in 2017, but researchers from the Gynecologic Oncology Group call her annually to ask her what’s new with her health, how she is feeling and other general questions. Her consistent response? “I feel alright!” Like Reeves, Thomas is back in their shared dental hygienist’s chair and is enjoying life.

Results from Thomas’ participation in the clinical trial are being analyzed with those of more than 1,000 other participants and overall results are not yet available. While she did not benefit directly from this experience, her participation will help patients in years to come, and she reports that is benefit enough for her.

Now an avid supporter of early cancer detection, Thomas counsels nearly all women she encounters that pap tests don’t necessarily detect all types cancer specific to women. Her advocacy has also earned her a spot on FirstHealth Cancer Services’ Cancer Advocacy Advisory Board for which she volunteers to educate fellow patients about clinical trials from a peer perspective.

Patients and their families seeking more information about clinical trials at FirstHealth of the Carolinas can visit https://www.firsthealth.org/reference/clinical-trials or talk with the patient’s physician.

From www.thepilot.com

Richard Joins FirstHealth Cancer Care

Richard joins FirstHealth cancer care pinehurst, NCPinehurst, NC — Retired Col. Thomas J. Richard, M.D., has joined the system’s cancer care team as a Pinehurst Medical Clinic medical oncologist in Pinehurst.

As a young man, Richard thought a career in the financial world would suit him, so he earned an undergraduate degree from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania in economics with concentrations in finance and accounting. However, a volunteer experience proved otherwise.

“After college, I volunteered at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in their bone marrow transplant ward,” Richard said. “This experience solidified my interest and guided me toward medicine, so I pursued the required premed courses at night.”

That chance volunteer experience bodes well for patients in the FirstHealth of the Carolinas service area.

Richard’s premed courses at night progressed to a medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and an internal medicine internship and residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

“During my residency, I was drawn to the unique relationships between health care providers and their oncology patients,” Richard said, who subsequently completed fellowship training in hematology and oncology at Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Medical Center.

Richard comes to Pinehurst Medical Clinic and the FirstHealth cancer care team from Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg where he served as chief of hematology – oncology service. He also served in a similar position at San Antonio Military Medical Center. Additional military roles include officer-in-charge at the NATO Role 2E Hospital at NKAIA and 31st Combat Support Hospital in Afghanistan, as well as internist at the 28th and 86th Combat Support Hospitals in Iraq. Military honors include the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and Best Senior Resident Teacher, among a host of others. He is board certified in oncology, hematology and internal medicine.

Richard joins Pinehurst Medical Clinic’s oncologists, including doctors, Michael Batalo, Charles Kuzma, Todd Moore, Robert Pohlmeyer and Ellen Willard. He also joins an expanding cancer care team at FirstHealth with additional oncologists, a physician assistant, nurse practitioners, oncology nurse navigators and clinical trials professionals. Richard will be a member of Pinehurst Medical Clinic and serve patients at the FirstHealth Outpatient Cancer Center in Pinehurst.

“We are honored that Dr. Richard chose to join our cancer team, as he brings a wide array of experiences and training that will serve our patients well,” said Dan Barnes, D.O., president of the FirstHealth Physician Group. “The addition of another specialist in hematology and oncology allows patients in the Sandhills to receive world-class care in their own community, close to home.”

Matt Sherer, administrative director of oncology and clinical trials at FirstHealth, added, “Dr. Richard is joining an exceptional team of cancer specialists, further solidifying FirstHealth’s position as a regional leader in cancer care.”

Richard was drawn to FirstHealth’s “great reputation as a top-notch organization,” he said. “I was impressed by the efficiency of operations and the emphasis on providing high quality patient care. I look forward to developing relationships with my patients and their families.”

Richard and his wife Meredith, a second grade teaching assistant at Saint John Paul II Catholic School, are the parents of five children: Matthew, a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Alison, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill; Daniel, a junior at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics; Lillian, a sophomore at Union Pines High School and Joseph, a sixth grader at Saint John Paul II.

The Anson Record, September 28, 2019

FirstHealth of the Carolinas Offers Clinical Trial Programs

FirstHealth Carolinas SCOR Member site

While FirstHealth of the Carolinas has earned widespread acclaim as a national leader in community health, Sandhills residents may not know of a superpower within the system that offers opportunities for patients in the region and worldwide: its extensive

“FirstHealth offers a wide array of clinical trials that far exceeds the average for regional medical centers,” said Charles S. Kuzma, M.D., institutional principal investigator of clinical trials at FirstHealth of the Carolinas. “Patients who choose to participate in a research treatment opportunity at FirstHealth gain access to new, state-of-the-art treatments before they are widely available to the public. On a broader level, the advances in medicine we enjoy worldwide today are thanks in part to clinical trials as part of medical research.” >>read more