Grand River Medical Group partners with UnityPoint Health to form integrated cancer center

Wendt Regional Cancer Center is located within Delhi Medical Center in Dubuque. Photo taken Thursday, July 16, 2020. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

By the end of the year, departments from two Dubuque health care providers will combine operations into one location to offer comprehensive cancer treatment.

Leaders from UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital and Grand River Medical Group announced Thursday that Grand River’s medical oncology clinic will relocate inside Finley’s Wendt Regional Cancer Center.

To accommodate the growing occupancy, Finley is undertaking a $1.6 million renovation, due for completion in late 2020. After that, the new cancer center will open its doors.

“Together we will be unstoppable,” Grand River CEO Justin Hafner said before unveiling the center’s logo. “The ability to actively collaborate, where both groups are working hand in hand under one roof, will raise these two premier facilities into the cornerstone of cancer care in Dubuque.”

The collaboration brings chemotherapy infusion to the Finley campus, where radiation oncology already is offered at the Wendt Regional Cancer Center.

“Within Grand River Medical Group, we have been providing this kind of care for years, and we’ve really outgrown our space,” Hafner said. “And we’re not able to provide the patients with the creature comforts that we would like to provide. We do see the demand is still there so this was our next logical step.”

Officials said a bevy of services will be readily accessible to patients, including multidisciplinary care team planning, genetic counselling, cancer-based physical therapy and support groups.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Charlie Skemp, chair of Finley hospital’s board of directors. “We are all very excited for the days ahead of us.”

Thursday’s announcement came on the heels of the opening of MercyOne Dubuque Cancer Center, which began accepting patients in June.

The $25 million facility also offers radiation treatment and chemotherapy infusion within a common setting through a partnership between MercyOne and Medical Associates Clinic.

MercyOne President and CEO Kay Takes was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The state required MercyOne to obtain a “certificate of need” to introduce radiation therapy services. The certificate program aims to prevent duplication of medical services and contain patient health care costs.

UnityPoint Health opposed the bid when the proposal twice appeared before the State Health Facilities Council in 2017 and the following year.

Finley officials said that the addition of those services would threaten the continued viability of the Wendt Regional Cancer Center and increase the difficulty of maintaining sufficient patient volume and staff.

Meanwhile, MercyOne leaders argued that the lack of radiation therapy services at MercyOne resulted in fragmented care, requiring patients to travel between multiple facilities.

Ultimately, the council approved MercyOne’s acquisition of a linear accelerator, a necessary device to administer radiation therapy.

Finley, though, will not require a certificate of need to form the integrated cancer center as it does not include a substantial investment to purchase new medical equipment or the creation of a new health service.

“Of course, we hope you never have to see us, but should you need us, know that we are here for you,” said Finley hospital President and CEO Chad Wolbers. “Know that Finley Hospital and Grand River will stand together at the ready and alongside of you to help you face what may be the most difficult battle of your life.”

Grand River Medical Group’s two oncologists will remain employed through the practice. Likewise, their patients will continue to schedule appointments through Grand River.

“We’ve provided and still give excellent care to our patients,” said oncologist Dr. Mark Hermann. “What we’ve needed and what we’re getting from this … cooperation and updated facilities are just better patient comfort, access, privacy (and) space.”