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Hospital gets largest gifts in Vero history for cancer center

STORY BY JOESEPH W. FENTON, (Week of June 6, 2013)

An act of philanthropy unprecedented in the history of Vero Beach will enable Indian River Medical Center to attract more top doctors to the community, invest in state of the art diagnostic and treatment technology, and provide new services to patients who no longer will have to travel to leading medical centers elsewhere to receive them.

"This gift goes way beyond cancer care," said hospital CEO Jeffrey Susi, following last week’s startling announcement that two island families – Bill and Marlynn Scully and Pat and Carol Welsh – had each given $12 million to cut 30 months off the hospital’s plan to develop a new cancer center.

“For us, the impact will be tremendous,” Susi said.

Officials now expect what will be called the Scully-Welsh cancer center to be open either before or just after the start of the 2014-2015 winter season.

Susi and Jan Donlan, president of the medical center's fund-raising foundation, said the Scullys – who were directly touched by cancer last fall with the death of Bill’s brother John, also a Vero resident – were particularly interested in seeing how much faster their donation would help the hospital get the cancer center up and running.

While the goal of the three-year campaign to raise funds for the cancer center has now been raised from the original $30 million to a new target of $48 million, and while the drive will continue through fall of 2015, many things now are expected to happen quickly. 

For example, a $5.5 million linear accelerator will be installed and put into operation sometime in the next year that will allow the pinpoint direction of radiation to specific cancerous cells, Susi said. The availability to do that will mean radiation treatment – which now often requires daily sessions for up to a month to six weeks – could be reduced to just a few treatments.

Another big impact of the donation will be IRMC’s ability to work with Duke University much sooner on clinical trials, said hospital chief operating officer Cindy Vanik.  The cancer center – like the IRMC Heart Center – will be an affiliate of Duke Medicine.  In preparation of the trials, the hospital will soon start recruiting research staff, and develop a clinical trial review board.

"We will bring in more trials and build the infrastructure to manage them," she said.  "We are much more focused on beginning than we could have been without this gift."

Susi said many patients currently look out of town – to Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville or Miami – for clinical trials of new approaches to treating various forms of cancer. "We can bring those trials to the Indian River Medical Center," he said. "We can manage the care here."

"While every aspect of the program is critical for the care of cancer patients and their families, we are most excited to know that our support will attract the best and the brightest in clinical talent and will allow patients in our community to have access to thousands of clinical trial right here Vero Beach," said Bill Scully in a prepared statement.

Vanik said she has already called architects who will arrive in Vero Beach next month. She estimated it will take the architects about six months to assess the hospital's needs and design the cancer center.

Construction, she said, will start early next year and take about 12 months.

The hospital also will spend $2 million to renovate the current oncology inpatient unit, she said.

The cancer center also will house the hospital's cancer care coordination team, a group that is involved in a patient's care from counseling and treatment to after-care and support. In addition, it will provide patients and their families with a patient resource library, a conference center and a location for support groups to meet. 

The Scullys have lived in Vero Beach since 1995. They spend their summers in Dorset, Vt.,

The Welshes have supported the hospital since they moved here in 2004. They spend summers in Summit, N.J.

Gifts like those of the Scullys and the Welshes, Susi said, indicates people have an element of concern about health care with all its proposed changes.

"With that concern, money spent on the Indian River Medical Center will go a long way," Susi said.