Designed with patients in mind: At Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center, architecture and design are part of the treatment.

(Photo courtesy Mark Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center)

When planning the renovation and expansion of the Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge, one question served as the “centering point” for the entire project, says Cancer Center Administrator Linda Lee.

“What is it like if you’re a human being, and you’re at your doctor’s office, and you find out you have cancer?” she says.

The center already had top-notch clinicians and staff, she says. Now they have a building that is more comfortable, welcoming and efficient for the patients.

Mary Bird
(Photo by Brian Baiamonte) A two-story stained glass wall greets visitors to the newly renovated Mary Bird Perkins-Our Lade of the Lake Cancer Center.

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of the nearly complete renovation is the two-story stained-glass wall that catches the eye as you walk in through the main entrance. Each of the hundreds of shards of yellow, orange, red, green and blue glass were hand glued by local artist Stephen Wilson.

The other side of the glass wall can be seen up close from the second-floor meditation room. Designed with the patients in mind, the mostly wood-paneled room also hosts guided meditation for staff twice a week, Lee says.

Art, much of it abstract, can be found throughout the Cancer Center and often is employed as wayfinding markers along with traditional signs. Beyond the pleasing aesthetics, the hope is that an interesting, soothing piece can serve as a distraction, if only for a moment, from the stress of cancer treatment.

The materials inside of the building, including a lot of wood and stone, were chosen purposefully to avoid creating a cold, sterile environment. Project architect Brenda Bush-Moline of VOA Associates says the firm practices “biophilic design,” which helps patients receive treatment “when they’re their very best selves.” Bush-Moline also designed the LSU Health building and the East Tower at Our Lady of the Lake, according to VOA’s website.

“Being in an environment that has cues to nature and has natural elements has literally been proven to reduce stress,” she says.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Surveys show that cancer patients prefer to receive as much of their treatment in one place as possible, so creating the most efficient layout was one of the key challenges for the project. While inpatient surgery still must be performed at the Our Lady of the Lake hospital next door, basically everything else is done at the Cancer Center itself. Even the drugs for chemotherapy are mixed in-house.

At the same time, the partnership between Mary Bird Perkins and Our Lady of the Lake is reinforced by physical connections at the ground floor, second floor and fifth floor of the Cancer Center. A new public pathway allows patients and visitors to move more easily between the two.

Over the years, new services to meet market demands and incorporate the latest treatments were added to the Cancer Center on a piecemeal basis, leading to a disjointed, inconvenient layout. Cancer Center officials and staff wanted to create carefully mapped “care pathways” designed with the patients and their families in mind.

“The patient experience was not focused on that seamless nature [under the old design],” Bush-Moline says, “but it in fact was focused on real estate.”

About 75% of the original building was renovated, while 20,000 square feet of space was added to the existing 120,000 square feet. Officials say that 90% of the 140,000 square feet is dedicated to patient care, compared to 62% of the pre-renovation building.

Bush-Moline and Lee both emphasize the importance of a “mind/body” approach to cancer care. Moline says the work done by social workers, nutritionists and others was carefully incorporated into the design.

“It was basically deconstructing the support services and locating them throughout the Cancer Center,” Bush-Moline says, “so that when a patient is ready to accept those services, they’re present.”

THE LATEST TECH

Of course, a better design and layout means little without the latest technology. The new 8,149-square-foot Thomas J. Moran Imaging Center includes digital X-ray, CT scan, nuclear medicine and more.

“The employees in the imaging center are Cancer Center employees,” says Marian Walsworth, the center’s director of radiation therapy operations. “This isn’t an imaging center where you’re having your back done. It’s much more of a [cancer] patient-centered experience.”

Walsworth shows off a new $2.5 million radiation therapy device capable of delivering a precisely shaped dose of radiation to a tumor, minimizing the chance of damaging healthy tissue. The process only takes a few minutes, but the patient still can listen to music or watch soothing scenery on a TV.

Cancer Center President and CEO Todd Stevens marvels at the improvements in cancer treatment over the past two decades. The cancer death rate fell 20% from 1991 to 2010, according to the American Cancer Society.

“I remember when I was at MD Anderson back in the ’90s, and sitting in scientists’ offices talking about these kinds of things like they might exist in somebody else’s lifetime,” Stevens says.

Stevens claims that he does not have an estimate of the expected return on investment to the Cancer Center for the renovation project, which he expects to cost a bit less than $25 million.

“My board will be not real happy if you print my answer, but the ROI is better patient care,” he says.

And not just better care for today’s patients. The Cancer Center’s partnership with the Lake, which hosts LSU’s graduate medical education program, means the next generation of cancer doctors can utilize the improved facility. The Cancer Center’s extended campus includes LSU’s North Baton Rouge Clinic and a team of hematology-oncology physicians on Picardy Avenue.

But while he may not have calculated a financial return, Stevens does expect to attract more patients from outside the greater Baton Rouge area. He mentions meeting a Cancer Center patient from Alexandria who was advised to go to Houston for treatment, but realized he could get what he needed a little closer to home.

“The hotels are a lot cheaper here than in Houston, so I came to Baton Rouge,” the man told him.

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