The Indiana University Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center Offers Patients Holistic, Individualized Care
The Indiana University Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center, an 88,000 square foot, two-story facility that just opened on the south side of the IU Health North Hospital campus, is a godsend for cancer patients and their families, who were consulted from the get-go about the project so the cancer center staff could learn how best to serve patients in a holistic way. They found that patients craved a warm, caring, comforting environment in which to heal, so while the building is big and beautiful, it still offers that cozy, community-focused feel.
“We’ve taken that imperative as part of our journey in constructing both the programming and the physical facility of the cancer center,” says Dr. Sara Jo Grethlein, Medical Director of the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center.
They started by streamlining the check-in process. She notes that in the past, patients had to check in at multiple times to see different doctors on the same day.
“Now, we have coordinated all of that so that, from the patient’s perspective, it feels like one visit that is coordinated for them,” Dr. Grethlein says.
And anything that can make the cancer journey less exhausting is welcome.
“When someone is going through a complex cancer journey, they are often getting chemotherapy and radiation at the same time, and having to travel to two different facilities every day or see doctors in multiple locations, which adds to the distress,” says Dr. Grethlein, who is also a Professor of Medicine, Hematology & Oncology at the Indiana University School of Medicine. “Patients and their families are excited about having one-stop shopping by having all of this care combined under one roof.”
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center, Beth Nikides, an IU Health primary care clinic manager who is also currently a cancer patient herself, spoke, saying, “As a resident of Hamilton County, I’m so glad that these services are available just 10 minutes from my home. I can choose to receive my immunotherapy at the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center. Parking is easy, less walking to get to the services I need and the added plus is my short drive home.”
Dr. Kandice Ludwig, Medical Director of the Breast Care program and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgical Breast Oncology with the IU School of Medicine, maintains that making the cancer process easier on the patient is critical.
“At a time when our patients are experiencing a level of stress and worry that they probably have never experienced before, making access to care easier and more convenient is a big deal,” Dr. Ludwig says. “At a time when clinical coordination and collaboration is pivotal, having the entire team —from diagnostics to surgery to infusion and radiation — all in one location here at the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center, that’s [also] a big deal.”
Doug Puckett, IU Health president of the Indianapolis Suburban Region, calls the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center a way to fulfill their promise of meeting patient needs and delivering on unique personal experiences for each one of their patients.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity of what this building has been able to do and what we are prepared to do from the way we deliver services,” Puckett says. “It’s going to different when patients come here. The way they receive the expert care from the full clinical team is going to be seamless and all under one roof.”
Three existing practices are coming into the space to create the foundation of the center — the Breast Cancer Center at IU Health North Hospital, the IU Health Central Indiana Cancer Centers, who are a part of the IU School of Medicine’s Division of Hematology and Oncology, and the IU Health Springmill Infusion Center.
“We’re starting off with teams of physicians who have already been serving patients in this community,” Dr. Grethlein adds.
Such doctors include Dr. Kathy Miller, well-renowned and respected in the breast cancer community, and Dr. Rich Zellars, Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the IU School of Medicine, who is well known for his work in making the radiation journey easier for breast cancer patients. They’re also introducing a brand-new thoracic oncology program, a pulmonologist and critical care interventionalist, gynecologic oncologist and ENT physicians.
Dr. Ludwig calls the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center a game-changer for patients and their families.
“We’re going to bring our diverse and important cancer care services and the experts who deliver that care under one roof. And when patients need it, it will also serve as a front door to a truly comprehensive system of sub-specialty cancer care, including leading-edge research with our IU School of Medicine colleagues,” Dr. Ludwig adds.
The center is utilizing nurse navigators to help patients understand what they can expect even before arriving. In addition, from a programming perspective, they have a top-notch radiation facility not only for what they call External Beam Radiation, but also for brachytherapy to provide radiation directly to tumors and minimize side effects to patients.
The integrated health program aims to nourish the whole patient by supporting them physically, psychologically and nutritionally. This support may include art therapy, cosmetology, tai chi, cooking classes or technology-driven workshops.
Their state-of-the-art infusion suite has 22 slots for patients to receive cancer therapy, 16 of which are in the bright airy common treatment room divided by sliding wooden doors. The other six rooms are private for patients who are either feeling unwell, fighting infection or simply prefer receiving treatment in an individualized space.
In mid-2020, in partnership with physicians at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, the IU Health Schwarz Cancer Center will open its adolescent and young adult unit — the only one in the region.
“Besides giving these young patients their own space, we’re going to have experts in helping with fertility preservation, making sure that as we are curing their cancer, we are preserving their future,” says Dr. Grethlein, who is grateful to the naming donors who made this center possible.
Joe Schwarz had throat cancer, but Dr. Grethlein notes that cancer failed to steal Joe’s voice because his wife, Shelly, became his voice. “She spoke for herself and for Joe in helping to design this entity for the next generation,” Dr. Grethlein says. “Shelly walked beside her husband on his cancer journey and she remembers vividly what made a difference for him and for their family throughout this journey.”
Now, many more cancer patients will feel that support and love, too.
“Between our psychologists, social workers, dietitians, doctors, nurses, medical assistants and administrative staff, we will be there for our patients,” Dr. Grethlein adds.
The Indiana University Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center is located at 11645 N. Illinois Street in Carmel. You can visit them online at iuhealth.org/cancer for more information.