There’s no place like home — especially when you’re not feeling well.

In part, that’s why the Cancer Care Close to Home campaign for the comprehensive remodel of the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at District One Hospital in Faribault is on pace for a successful finish.

“We all know someone who has been touched by cancer, and despite medical advances in the field, it’s not going away,” said Rick Miller, director of operations for Allina Health’s Faribault and Owatonna hospitals.

“We have better screening programs and a prevention focus but when someone gets a cancer diagnosis, the ability to have the right hands holding theirs from the start of the journey is vital.”

Over the past year, the District One board of directors, along with hospital staff like Miller and oncology-certified nurse practitioner Amy Selly, have partnered with motivated community members to meet a $750,000 fundraising goal that will improve local delivery of cancer care services.

“The community has rallied around investing in great cancer care close to home,” said Miller, mentioning that an abundance of $25 and $50 gifts have been received, as well as about a dozen donations in the larger gift categories.

“This is a close-knit health care community, and we’re extremely appreciative of every gift,” he added.

Said Selly, “We’ve been amazed at the support and generosity of this community, which will enable us to continue providing care in a functional environment and offering patients our very best professional support.”

Miller confirms the major remodeling effort may commence in January 2022. Although the bulk of the needed funds have been pledged or received, more donations are required to ensure the project can be completed as envisioned.

“We’re getting close, but those last dollars are really the toughest,” said Todd Markman, a campaign cabinet member.

“We need to find a few more donors to put us over the top so we can finalize the project.”

Permanently temporary

The VPCI remodel is comprised of three major parts: a new room for family conferences; a larger space to accommodate cancer support group meetings, counseling, patient education and/or staff training; and dedicated patient rooms.

“Between the clinic and infusion center, we see between 25 and 50 patients a day,” said Selly. “Patients are typically from within a 30-mile radius of Faribault.

“We are the only accredited cancer center in south central Minnesota, and that accreditation is important because it allows us to provide multidisciplinary care.”

Selly, along with her VPCI colleagues, has made do for years.

“The original space was outgrown by 2015,” said Selly, noting the VPCI opened locally in 2011.

“Ten years after opening, we’ve significantly outgrown the temporary space we moved to in 2015.”

Selly, a Faribault native and one of 13 skilled health care professionals at the District One VPCI, handles direct patient care.

“Truly, caring for patients in our community is my passion,” said Selly. “We have an outstanding medical oncologist, social workers, nurse navigators and nursing staff.”

But what they haven’t had is a dedicated space.

“Currently, our clinic staff are scattered throughout the hospital’s first floor, making patient coordination more challenging,” said Selly.

“We’re located within the surgery center, and there’s a lot of commotion and activity occurring around us as we’re attempting to take care of newly diagnosed cancer patients and those receiving ongoing care.”

The remodel aims to solve that, with a goal of creating a specially designed space for providing optimal cancer care.

“This is a good thing, too, because it’s a remodel of space [on the hospital’s north side] previously used to store medical records,” said Miller, noting records are now digitalized.

“That makes the construction costs less and the timeline shorter than if we were building from scratch.”

Both Selly and Miller emphasize the project’s value to cancer patients and their families.

“We have all the tools, expertise and programs to support cancer care, and we can do it close to home,” said Miller.

“Something even as simple as parking, which is easy and far less stressful here than at larger facilities — and the benefit of having VPCI and Allina Health behind us is we can do everything here they do at Abbott Northwestern or Mayo, and if additional specialized care is required, we can coordinate that for you.

“You get the specialized medical care you need along with the extra tender care of a smaller facility.”

Personal touch

Markman was easily convinced to join the campaign cabinet.

“I was happy they asked me, and the more I learned about the project, the more it made great sense to me from the perspective of keeping cancer care local,” said Markman.

The goal of providing up-to-the-minute specialized cancer care in greater Minnesota spoke to Markman, who moved with his family to Faribault from Blue Earth as an 8-year-old because his mother was battling cancer and needed closer proximity to the Mayo Clinic for her frequent appointments and treatments.

“We had some relatives in Owatonna, and our church family helped out a lot, but I remember her taking numerous trips to Rochester for treatments and checkups when I was a child,” said Markman.

“We [he and his three older brothers] learned some valuable lessons that, no matter the outcome of the illness, community means a lot to a family.”

Markman stresses that having a hospital in town serves everyone; its presence shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“Whether it’s there for children being born, or when you fall off a bike and break an arm, or need other medical attention—to have all that, plus a full cancer center, in our own backyard is pretty important,” said Markman.

“Many other outstate communities have lost their hospitals, and having both Mayo and Allina clinics in town with access to specialists is part of what makes Faribault the great community it is.”

That’s precisely why Miller and Selly are thrilled the remodeled cancer center is on the verge of becoming a reality.

Said Miller, “Our staff are friends, neighbors and relatives of their patients. They really care on a deeply personal level.”

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