New breast center to open at Cooley Dickinson Hospital July 31

  • Nancy King, director of imaging services at Cooley Dickinson, leads a preview tour of the hospital's new breast center. In the background is Dr. Pacilio. The space is more than double the size of the hospital’s previous mammography area. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • An ultrasound room in the new breast center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • An exam room in the new breast center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dr. Holly Michaelson, who is the chief of surgery at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, is standing beside a 3-D mammography machine in the hospital’s new breast center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A holding area in the new breast center at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dr. Michaelson says the new center is a one-stop location for patients to get the full range of breast-care services from exam to biopsy. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dr. Louis Pacilio, who is a radiologist at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, stands in a stereotactic room during a tour of the hospital's new breast center. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dr. Holly Michaelson, who is the chief of surgery at Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and Dr. Louis Pacilio, who is a radiologist, talk about the hospital's new breast center during a tour. They are in the center's reception and waiting room area. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Pioneer Valley has one of the highest instances of breast cancer in the state, so it is especially important for women here to get screened, ideally in a comfortable environment. That is one major reason Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton is opening a new $2.5 million breast center July 31, says its chief of surgery Dr. Holly Michaelson.

The hospital has long been ahead of the curve with new technology, like 3-D mammographies that detect breast cancer earlier and more accurately than older technology, says Michaelson, but the facility’s space for breast health has left much to be desired; it was dark and cramped, with little room for family members to wait while their loved ones got cancer screenings. After years of doctors advocating for a change, a new, spacious, 6,000-square-foot breast center is opening. The hospital is raising $650,000 from private donors to pay for the center and will cover the remaining cost in its capital budget. Services will include breast examination, screening, diagnostic imaging, biopsy and ultrasound.

“The goal is to have a seamless, brisk, personalized, care that makes you feel held through the experience,” Michaelson said during a preview tour of the new center last week. “I couldn’t be more excited.”

The public is invited to the grand opening of the Comprehensive Breast Center July 31. Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz will lead a walk from City Hall to place pink ribbons along the path to the hospital starting at 3:30 p.m. There will be self-guided tours of the breast center between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m.

The Comprehensive Breast Center’s waiting room is a straight shot from the hospital’s main entrance on Locust Street. The space is designed to streamline the experience for patients with everything they might need in one place; no need to hop from one part of the hospital to another for mammograms and biopsies, as in years past.

Healthy patients can get annual screenings and those with suspect results can get further testing in a room just a few steps away. In some cases, the staff can do same-day biopsies, and have results back to patients within 24 hours, says Michaelson.

“We have some of the fastest pathology already in town,” she said. “So potentially, you could be worked up and taken care of and have an answer and start to figure out what the next steps are. Most of breast cancer is going to be something that you are going to live with and we are going to get you through.” 

The consolidation of breast services is just the next step for a hospital that sees about 40 women a day for breast health already. Also, since breast cancer is so common in this area, breast cancer comprises 28 percent of all cancers diagnosed and treated at the hospital; 49 percent of women and 2 percent of men treated for cancer at Cooley Dickinson are treated for breast cancer. Michaelson says the reason for the high incidence of breast cancer here is unknown.

“It’s the population that we serve — we want to do the best we can for them,” says Dr. Louis Pacilio, head mammographer radiologist.

Unlike the hospital’s old facility, this center has a large waiting room. The changing rooms are spacious and have doors instead of curtains. Patients will have more privacy and won’t have to walk wearing a hospital gown through a public hallway to get breast ultrasounds.

The space is meant to be physically attractive, with open, airy spaces. It is more than double the size of the hospital’s previous breast health unit, which was not wheelchair accessible, said Nancy King, director of medical imaging, during the preview tour.

“We provided really great, high-quality service with state of the art technology in a space that really wasn’t appropriate,” she said.

She points out that the new center is entirely accessible, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). There are unisex bathrooms and changing rooms for men as well as people with nonconforming gender identities, since breast cancer does not discriminate between genders. Large lockers will be available for patient’s belongings, which can fit hangers.

“Professional women can have nice, unwrinkled clothing when they leave here,” she said.

For extra support, “nurse navigators” will be available for patients to ask questions or even just to hold their hands during a procedure.

When a patient walks in, a greeter will be there to take her or his name and set up future appointments, whereas in the past, patients would have to call in for follow-up appointments, King explained. 

The breast center occupies the space where the hospital’s operating rooms were once located. Most recently, the area held offices, which have been relocated. Now it is bright and open with high ceilings, scalloped walls and linoleum floors that look like bamboo. 

“It is meant to look inviting,” says Michaelson. “It is not just a beautiful space, it is a beautiful, functional, friendly space.” 

Lisa Spear can be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.

The Breast Center’s hours are Monday  through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 582-2101 and press ‘1’ to schedule a mammogram.