by MARK ST.J. COUHIG
The folks at Olympic Medical Cancer Center in Sequim are a little frustrated.
There are two issues, really. First, there is the large number of people who don’t know Sequim has a cancer center. That includes some area medical practitioners.
And second, there are those residents, mostly without insurance, who put off seeking cancer care because they can’t afford it.
Dr. Michael Shevach, a radiation oncologist at the center, said, “You don’t need to go to Seattle (for cancer care). The vast, vast majority of cases can be treated right here.”
He added that there are exceptions, including children’s cancer, where better care is found elsewhere. “In those cases we send them to Seattle,” he said.
Dr. Rena Zimmerman, another radiation oncologist at the center, said it’s all made a little more frustrating because of the many advantages, including financial, that derive from being treated locally.
She pointed out that one of Shevach’s patients had worked it out — he had saved $3,000-$4,000 in expenses by seeking treatment near home.
Zimmerman added that the center has surplus capacity. “I think we could double the number of patients … with a little additional staffing,” she said.
She also noted that the technology available in Sequim is second to none on the peninsula. The high tech includes OMC’s new $2.7 million Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator.
Cancer center director Ken Burkes said the center’s revenues have risen approximately 20 percent since the machine was installed in 2011. Zimmerman said the new technology provides a greater range of treatment options than was previously available in Sequim.
Don’t put it off
Zimmerman also provided a sobering observation. “I’m personally seeing more advanced cancers than I ever thought I would see again.”
She said too many who require a check-up, or who are actually presenting symptoms, are delaying the inevitable because they believe they can’t afford the care.
She said the center’s traffic peaked in the last days of 2011 as patients sought care quickly before the new year arrived. They were trying to beat the deadline for their new insurance deductible, Zimmerman said.
Financial considerations shouldn’t stop a patient from seeking care, she said. “Please don’t delay.”
“We’re a public hospital,” Zimmerman added. “Our job is to see people. Not getting treated costs a lot more.”
Burkes said, “Work with your primary care physician. We typically see patients within two to three days of referral.”
Zimmerman added that the center has a “patient navigator,” Susan Clements, whose job includes helping patients find ways to save money on care, including transportation and medicines.
“We’ll work with you,” Zimmerman said.