Last June, when the retired physician who surveyed Celilo for the Commission on Cancer (CoC) met with hospital personnel to summarize her findings after a day putting the cancer center staff and records through the white-glove treatment, she wasn't stingy with her praise.
"I simply can't find anything wrong with your program," Ann Carter, MD, said at the time. "I must have missed something."
In mid-April, the Celilo staff received formal indication that Dr. Carter clearly didn't miss anything. In addition to the maximum three-year accreditation with commendation that Celilo received immediately after the intensive survey, the center and its staff now have been honored with the CoC's elite New Program Outstanding Achievement Award (OAA).
The award was designed to recognize cancer programs that strive for excellence in providing quality care to cancer patients by exceeding CoC standards in 36 different quality measurements.
Only 15 percent (12) of the programs surveyed in 2007 were New Program OAA recipients.
"Congratulations on this remarkable achievement at initial survey," Dr. Carter wrote in her letter notifying the Celilo team of the award. "We are pleased to acknowledge your commitment to providing high-quality cancer care."
The OAA is only the latest demonstration of the level of quality care provided at Celilo, a commitment that began before the cancer center's doors were even opened. Determined to offer the most advanced care available from the most skilled medical professionals that could be attracted, MCMC developed a partnership with a respected Portland radiation oncology group to help design Celilo and staff its state-of-the-art radiation program.
That led to the hiring of a medical director whose qualifications exceeded the team's most optimistic expectations. Then only in his 30s, Keith Stelzer. M.D., Ph.D., already had become one of the world's preeminent experts in using the most advanced radiation treatment available, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT).
No one expected he would be interested in leaving Seattle and his position on the faculty of the University of Washington Medical School for the opportunity that Celilo presented, no matter how unique.
"When we found out Keith was interested, we thought it was too good to be true", remembers Norm Willis, M.D., who then ran the Portland oncology group and was the point person for the development of the Celilo program. "He is a highly qualified individual who is greatly respected among his peers. If Keith had stayed at the University of Washington, he quite probably would now be the chief of radiation oncology."
Quality attracts quality, and soon Celilo was welcoming oncology nurse practitioner Nina van Es, who was hired to help manage cancer patient treatments. Van Es brought with her 15 years of experience as a nurse, caring most often for cancer and hospice patients.
In 2003, Stelzer and van Es were joined by medical oncologist Samuel Taylor, M.D., a Chicagoan who was one of the country's leading head and neck cancer researchers and practitioners.
At the time, Stelzer announced, "I only see things getting better as time goes on."
The 2007 arrival of hematologist/medical oncologist Steve Fu, M.D., Ph.D, helped prove Stelzer right. Fu brought to Celilo patients extensive experience in cancer research and patient care, allowing for an expansion of the center's medical oncology services.
The impressive team that has assembled at Celilo has brought to patients a level of expertise not often found in a community the size of The Dalles. It has helped Celilo become accredited as a center for clinical research, enabling patients to participate in and benefit from studies of new treatments that contribute to the knowledge of, and progress against, cancer.
Staff expertise was one of many factors that recently helped Celilo earn the CoC's highest possible rating last June and the additional honor it just received from the same organization.
It is only the latest chapter in a success story that cancer patients throughout the Mid-Columbia should never get tired of hearing.