Oneida Health Continues to Improve Local Access to Higher-Level Cancer Care

By Thomas Crocker
Monday, March 4, 2019

As an affiliate of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center with a presence in Upstate New York, Oneida Health Cancer Care provides cutting-edge, personalized treatments for patients close to home.

Debra A. Walz, AOCNP, WHNP-BC, advanced oncology nurse practioner

Before Oneida Health partnered with Roswell Park, individuals in Central New York often had to endure long commutes to larger cities to access advanced cancer treatments and new technologies. Oneida Health Cancer Care eliminates many of those elements by creating access to Roswell Park’s nationally recognized cancer care in a community setting.

Patients have the benefit of accessing a Roswell Park-affiliated medical oncologist, medical oncology services and consulting with certain surgical oncologists close to home — not the other way around.

“Cancer patients experience enough tribulation, so if we can help them avoid additional disruptions and still deliver the highest quality care, everyone wins,” says Thomas Schwaab, MD, PhD, Chief of Strategy, Business Development and Outreach at Buffalo, NY-based Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Affiliation with a Comprehensive Cancer Center

As a medical oncology affiliate of an NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center that focuses on laboratory research, population science and clinical research, Oneida Health Cancer Care extends Roswell Park’s dedication to employ the cancer team’s research in the dual areas of cancer prevention and cancer care. Access to Roswell Park’s advanced clinical research furthers Oneida Health Cancer Care’s objective to promote a patient-centered, multidisciplinary approach to oncologic medicine. The first dedicated cancer center in the U.S., Roswell Park contributes regularly to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s guidelines for cancer care and detection — important guidance that other healthcare institutions and insurance companies follow, according to Mohamed El-Naghy, MD, PhD, Medical Director at Oneida Health Cancer Care medical oncology affiliate of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Oneida Health Cancer Care mirrors those exacting standards along every step of the oncology care pathway.

Opening June 2019, the Dorothy G. Griffin Radiation Oncology Center is located at 601 Seneca Street, Oneida.

Tumor Boards Foster a Team-Based Approach

One way Oneida Health and Roswell Park incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to quality assurance and personalized care is through consultative tumor boards comprised of one or more physicians from various oncology disciplines and other specialties, including medical oncology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology pathology and gastroenterology. During regularly scheduled meetings, specialists from Oneida Health and Roswell Park connect via telemedicine. Through this collaborative partnership, Oneida Health and Roswell Park specialists participate in a discussion to determine the best course of treatment for specific cases, with Roswell Park oncology experts providing a second opinion as needed.

At the end of the tumor board discussion, physicians come to an agreement on the next course of treatment for patients. While it is generally not feasible for a patient to visit multiple physicians individually without affecting the timeliness of care, a tumor board brings experts together in a much quicker way to devise a comprehensive care plan that can begin in an expedient manner.

“When we need input from specialty services unavailable at Oneida Health, we send that information to Roswell Park for review,” says Gene Morreale, President and CEO of Oneida Healthcare. “Pathology and imaging slides are available in advance to the tumor board medical experts via telemedicine at both locations.”

Once the care path has been identified, a dedicated nurse navigator assists patients at Oneida Health Cancer Care along their individual journeys from diagnosis to treatment to follow-ups, coordinating appointment scheduling and acting as an agent of support. It is an overarching approach that benefits patients who wish to receive oncologic care locally.

Medical staff in Oneida can seamlessly communicate about individual treatment plans for patients with Roswell Park’s Tumor Board.

Clinical Trial Access

When patients receive treatment at Oneida Health Cancer Care, they also gain access to clinical trials provided at Roswell Park.

“Roswell Park gives our patients direct access to one of the largest phase 1 clinical trial programs in New York State,” Dr. El-Naghy says. “These clinical trials are where innovations come from and where standards of care are established.”

Having access to clinical trials, no matter the stage of cancer — newly diagnosed, active treatment, remission or recurrence — is another key to the comprehensive approach that Oneida Health Cancer Care provides its patients. Since Roswell Park clinical trials are included in the oncology care pathways Oneida Health Cancer Care uses, Dr. El-Naghy is able to identify whether a patient may be eligible for a clinical trial. When patients are interested, nurse navigators aid in the transference of care to Roswell Park, which eliminates patients having to gain access to other trials or travel to New York City to access a clinical trial treatment option. Roswell Park also provides care if an Oneida Health Cancer Care patient requires specialty surgical treatment with the additional advantage of having follow-up patient care at Oneida Health Cancer Care.

An Infusion Center With Leading-Edge Technology

Oneida Health is known to offer advanced technologies that many other rural facilities cannot match, and the Oneida Health Cancer Care capabilities are no exception.

“The technology in our telemedicine room was a priority for us,” says Mary Parry, Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer at Oneida Healthcare. “We have a microscope that allows us to project slides not only here, but also at Roswell Park, so experts there can review them — simultaneously, if needed. We extended that position to the chemotherapy infusion pumps we use, and we purchased advanced equipment for the infusion space, as well. We built a USP 797/800-compliant pharmacy right in the cancer center, where a pharmacist compounds cancer-battling drugs on-site.”

The infusion area was thoughtfully designed with patient satisfaction and safety as top priorities.

“We built the space to ensure patient comfort, effective infection control and staff satisfaction,” Morreale says. “We were also very particular in the hiring process, and as a result, we have an excellent team of oncology nurses. The entire program is first-rate and continues to expand to meet patient needs in the region.”

“Every patient is different, and we structure care around that. When we encounter patients who do not fit guidelines or for whom there are difficulties applying standards of care, we take those cases to a joint Oneida Health Cancer Care and Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center tumor board.”
— Mohamed El-Naghy, MD, PhD, Medical Director at Oneida Health Cancer Care medical oncology affiliate of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

Mohamed El-Naghy, MD, PhD, Medical Director at Oneida Health Cancer Care medical oncology affiliate of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

New Radiation Oncology Facility

Later this year, Oneida Health will add the Dorothy G. Griffin Radiation Oncology Center to its campus, creating an even more comprehensive, patient-centric program for individuals receiving cancer treatment at Oneida Health. Construction has already begun on the new radiation oncology building, which will be situated on the same campus as Oneida Health Cancer Care’s medical oncology center.

“The radiation oncology facility is a 6,000-square-foot building,” Parry says. “As with the medical oncology center, these are clinical spaces, but we strived to design them as nonclinical as possible for our patients’ sake. The addition of radiation oncology to medical oncology closes the loop, providing multiple treatment options and a comprehensive care plan for cancer patients.”

Because Roswell Park is a partner in the radiation oncology program at Oneida Health, the team there is focused on ensuring that patients receive the same quality radiation therapy they would in Buffalo, from equipment to staff to treatment modalities, according to Morreale. The program will consist of state-of-the-art equipment, such as a low-dose CT scanner that maps the treatment area for maximal targeting and quality control.

The center will also accommodate oncology patient treatment planning, radiation therapy sessions and patient treatment monitoring. Roswell Park-hired physicians will staff the new facility.

Oneida Health Cancer Care Medical Oncology Affiliate of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center ribbon cutting

“We hope to have a mini-Roswell Park and Oneida Health campus here in Central New York to offer comprehensive cancer care,” Morreale says. “Roswell Park and our local team will continue to provide quality cancer care and the latest treatment options for the community we serve.”

With Roswell Park as a partner, Oneida Health will continue to push the boundaries of community-based oncology.

For more information about Oneida Health Cancer Care, visit or call 315-361-2381.