Impact Stories

Laurie Schalk, Manager of Medicine, Dialysis and Chemotherapy


This is the third in a series of testimonials in which chemo patients, their families and the staff and doctors who care for them share stories of their journey to fight and win the battle against cancer. A new and expanded Chemo space including the installation of new technology is projected to be completed in 2020. The project is one of the critical components of the Stratford General Hospital Foundation’s capital campaign which will have a tremendous impact on care.

Each year more than 1,400 patients with cancer come to Stratford General Hospital’s Chemotherapy Unit. For many patients and support persons from our region, it’s a much better option than the exhausting trip to London for treatment, sometimes up to three times a week, through weather that can be brutal.

In Stratford, they find highly competent, well-trained physicians and nursing staff who can deliver the quality, compassionate, hands-on care they need. But they also quickly learn of the limitations of the existing unit and how important it is to build something new – a place that can support and inspire them…a place that can provide comfort and care, a place that offers them every opportunity possible to triumph in their battle against cancer.

And when you have a group of patients who are in the fight of their lives, there’s an extra obligation to ensure that we build something special that meets their needs.

As part of our “In Our Hands” Campaign, Stratford General Hospital Foundation is earmarking $5 million for the new Chemo/Cancer Care Unit and co-located new Pharmacy.

“Patients know what they like about our existing unit – our wonderful, supportive staff; its hometown, comfortable feel,” says Laurie Schalk, Manager of Medicine, Dialysis, and Chemotherapy. “They also have very definite ideas about what should be included in our new unit. And we want to design and build it right.”

Space limitations are the biggest challenge. “Even with our current patient load, volumes can be overwhelming at times,” says Laurie. And with an aging population with increasing cancer care needs, plus figures that show there’s still a significant potential to be treating additional chemo patients from our region, there’s even more pressure to expand and relocate the unit within the Hospital.

Presently, the unit’s seven chairs and two beds are crammed into an old inpatient room, with an additional bed and two chairs separated by a hallway. This makes it challenging for nursing staff to “keep eyes” on patients at all times and creates barriers to optimum care.

“With the space we need for equipment, IV pumps and bedside computers, there’s barely room to put our patients in, let alone a support person,” explains Laurie. “And I want those support people to feel welcome. They play an important part in what our patients need on their journey.”

With the challenge of limited space come privacy concerns. It’s one of the main issues identified by patients and support persons in recent Chemo Unit surveys. And with the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance’s commitment to a positive patient experience, listening to the voice of the patient and family is paramount.

“Privacy is a major concern for our patients. There’s not enough privacy during treatments or even for a private conversation with a nurse,” explains Laurie. “Patients also tell us that temperature control is an issue. Despite having window air conditioners, the more people who are inside, the warmer it gets.”

Patient comfort is crucial, and anything that could make a new unit more relaxing and tolerable is important to patients and staff. Suggestions include improved patient Wi- Fi, television, chairs that can be adjusted by the patient themselves, and small patient tables that could fit over the patient’s chair to provide a spot for snacks, or activities.

Other issues include the need for a bigger, accessible washroom. Hindered by IV poles and other equipment, patients have difficulty in the limited space of the current washroom facilities. Safety issues, from a hard-wired “call bell” system to eye and handwashing stations are also concerns in the existing unit – issues that will be carried forward in the planning of the new Chemo Unit, says Laurie.

Plans are to co-locate both the new Chemo Unit and Pharmacy on the Hospital’s fourth floor in the space formerly occupied by day surgery. This co-location recognizes the interdependence of Chemo and Pharmacy, and should result in improved efficiency, safety and functionality for both.

Chemotherapy drugs are prepared in the Pharmacy and plans are to have an easy access window where potent chemo drugs can easily be passed through into the Chemo Unit. The fourth floor space will be completely gutted prior to the move projected for completion in 2020

But designing and building in a hospital setting is a challenge. Any new construction must meet enhanced codes, standards and safety requirements. And to be truly successful, any new building must be functional, flexible and designed to meet the needs of numerous different stakeholders – staff, physicians and especially patients and family members.

“So many individuals and families are touched by cancer,” says Andrea Page, SGH Foundation executive director and a cancer survivor. “This project is one of the most important components of our capital campaign – one that will have tremendous impact on our patients and families. We all want to ensure that we get this right.”

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