Mass General Hospital oncologists will provide on-Island care

— File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Beginning April 5, the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center (MGHCC) will provide medical oncology and hematology services at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Six Mass General clinicians will offer expanded cancer care for patients now available only off Island from a suite of newly renovated rooms in the old hospital building.

“We are excited to offer this oncology program to the community,” MVH chief executive officer Tim Walsh said in an email Tuesday to The Times. “We’ve tried for many years to enhance and expand our oncology service and now through our affiliation with Mass General, we are able to connect to one of the best cancer treatment programs in the country.”

The new Mass General Hematology/Medical Oncology service at MVH is the result of an oncology agreement the hospital recently signed with MGH. The Island’s hospital became an affiliate of MGH and a member of Partners HealthCare in 2007. MGH recently signed an oncology agreement with Nantucket Cottage Hospital (NCH), which is also in the MGH/Partners system.

“Patients living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard now have access to one of the finest cancer treatment programs in the United States,” Dr. David Ryan, chief of Hematology/Oncology and MGHCC clinical director, said in an email Tuesday to The Times. “We are very pleased that our cancer providers are working together with MVH as a team to provide the highest quality care for their patients.”

The oncology agreement between MVH and MGH has been in the works for about a year and was finalized about a month ago, according to MVH chief of nursing Carol Bardwell. She served on the MVH committee with other senior administrators and a group of physicians that crafted the new oncology agreement and program with MGH.

New staff and services

“This is the first step in increasing the complexity of services we can provide here,” Ms. Bardwell told The Times in a phone conversation Tuesday. “We will have an advanced practice nurse here for two or three days a week and an oncology physician once a month supervising the patients’ care.”

Dr. Richard T. Penson, MGHCC clinical director of Medical Gynecologic Oncology, will serve as the medical director and Jane Kelly as the nurse practitioner for the new MVH service, according to an MGHCC spokesman.

Dr. Penson also serves as an attending physician for the Bigelow General Medical Service at MGH and a faculty member teaching first-year Harvard Medical School students.

He will rotate work as a general oncologist at MVH with four other clinicians from MGHCC, including Dr. Christopher G. Azzoli, Dr. Jeffrey A. Barnes, Dr. Donald P. Lawrence, and Dr. Lidia Schapira. Ms. Kelly is tentatively scheduled to work two days a week at MVH and two days at NCH, the MGHCC spokesman said.

“The physician running the program is an MGH physician, well-established, with an extensive oncology background,” Ms. Bardwell said. “They are incorporating all of the specialties in oncology, so any of our patients will have access to a specialist up in Boston for their specific type of cancer. But the nurse practitioner that will work down here has been trained in all of those areas, and if not an expert in it, has a direct contact to be able to get help.”

Help closer to home

Ms. Bardwell said the oncology agreement reflects the MVH committee’s goal to maximize the number of services offered locally so that Island residents would not have to travel to Boston as often.

“We do some limited chemotherapy here, and one of the stumbling blocks we have is we’ve not had either an advance practice nurse or a physician on the premises who really understands the drugs to the degree that they do in Boston,” Ms. Bardwell said. “And this will allow us to really expand the types of drugs that we give here, which has usually been a limiting factor for us. We want to be able to provide the maximum amount of care in the safest way and we just didn’t have that next level. This actually opens us up to all of the resources of MGH.”

One of the biggest benefits for patients, she added, is that Ms. Kelly will be able to help them coordinate their care to get as much done as possible on Martha’s Vineyard, or, if they do have to go to MGH in Boston, to get everything done in one short visit and spend less time there.

That will be a huge asset because traveling to and from the Vineyard is a logistical nightmare for cancer patients and their families, Ms. Bardwell said, compounded by the stress of juggling multiple appointments and treatment times with ferry schedules.

“We have some of our own staff that have been involved in it, either with family or personally,” she said. “As health care professionals, they know what health care is like, and even they have trouble navigating it.”

Ms. Bardwell said the hospital is making renovations for the new oncology/hematology unit in the former acute care wing in the old hospital building. An infusion room currently used for limited chemotherapy is located there now.

The unit’s suite of rooms includes a small exam area for the physician and nurse practitioner, and a treatment area with five beds in private rooms.

“So it will not be anything different than what you would walk into in Boston, other than by scale,” Ms. Bardwell said. “We’ve planned it so there is easy parking access and space for families who wait, with plenty of room in the rooms. It will be a beautiful unit.”