Mass General Cancer Center to open at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton

Last modified: Thursday, February 06, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Cancer patients in the area will have local access to clinical trials, genetic screening and other advanced oncology treatment at Cooley Dickinson Hospital by 2015, when Massachusetts General Hospital opens a cancer treatment center at the Northampton hospital.

Cooley Dickinson President and CEO Craig Melin called the new center “the first local clinical service to be strengthened” as a result of the hospital’s acquisition by Mass General, which became official last July.

“Mass General is coming to us and expanding what we can do,” said Dr. Mark Novotny, Cooley Dickinson’s chief medical officer. The Boston hospital is one of the leading research centers in the country, and now Cooley Dickinson Hospital patients “will get the treatment protocols, genetic counseling and consultations that they could get in Boston.”

“One of the reasons we worked to tie ourselves to Mass General was to elevate the level of cancer care in the Pioneer Valley with this connection,” Novotny said Friday.

The new cancer center, expected to be completed in 2015, will be built above the radiation therapy department in the North Building. Cooley Dickinson’s development office has raised $2.4 million of the $5 million required for the project, according to a press release from the hospital.

The two hospitals have been collaborating on cancer care since 2009, Novotny said, by keeping in constant contact to determine the best possible treatment for patients. The expanded treatment options will start to be available to patients this summer, Novotny said. When renovations in the pharmacy near the radiation department are finished, a specially trained pharmacist will be able to mix more chemotherapy drugs under the supervision of Mass General.

Staffing changes

When the new Cancer Center is operational, Cooley Dickinson’s current oncology staff members will be hired to work there by Mass General. Two new staff, an executive administrator and a nurse, will also be hired.

The center will offer patients access to clinical trials headed by Mass General, which leads the nation in targeted therapy trials in lung cancer, melanoma and other diseases. Patients will also get the latest Mass General chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatment protocols and access to genetic screening and counseling, officials with the institutions say.

Doctors will also implement the Mass General Cancer Center’s “multidisciplinary care model,” in which patients meet their medical, radiation and surgical oncologists at one time to plan care.

“They’ll create a treatment plan together,” he said, which avoids any confusion or inconsistency that may occur “when a patient is going from office to office.”

The center will also be equipped for “telemedicine,” which allows patients at Cooley Dickinson to videochat with specialists in Boston if they need to. “It’s secure Skype,” Novotny said.

Novotny said that there will be still be certain rare types of cancer that will require patients to travel to Boston for procedures. But if they have a surgery in Boston, they could go to follow-up appointments at the Northampton center, he said.

The Cancer Center in Northampton will be overseen by Dr. Joel H. Schwartz, who is also the clinical director of the Mass General Cancer Center medical oncology network and director of oncology services at the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers.

Working at the new Cancer Center will be Dr. Sean D. Mullally, medical director of the Cooley Dickinson Cancer Care Program Mullally, and Cooley Dickinson physicians Dr. Lindsay Rockwell, a medical oncologist and hematologist, medical oncologists Dr. Barrett Newsome and Dr. Deborah Smith, and radiation oncologists Dr. Linda Bornstein and Dr. Jennifer J. Hyder.