A comprehensive cancer care center has opened its doors in Riverhead.
New York Cancer and Blood Specialists opened the state-of-the art, 20,000-square-foot facility on Jan. 20.
The center offers patients a full spectrum of cutting-edge care and treatment, as well as on-site PET/CT scans, radiation therapy, an on-site pharmacy where patients can pick up their medication after visiting their doctor. The center will also be able to process laboratory tests and deliver faster results to the medical group’s patients.
It also offers a wellness program staffed by nurse educators, psychologists, and other experts ready to provide nutritional, emotional, financial, and psychological guidance for patients.
“Through 40 years of treating and actually listening to our patients, we understand their needs and what they want: top-quality treatment and compassionate services 24 hours a day,” said Dr. Jeffrey Vacirca, CEO of New York Cancer and Blood Services.
“As a comprehensive oncology center, we want our patients to have what they need when they need it — and closer to home. Now we can do it, all under one roof in Riverhead.”
The sprawling cancer care center, located in the Riverhead Commons medical office complex at 750 Old Country Road, is a bright, modern, gleaming white facility. Its large open reception area features an atrium and small garden. The pharmacy and entrances to the radiology department, examination rooms and infusion center open onto the reception area.
Exam rooms are spacious and the infusion center features individual patient booths that create space for patient privacy with half-walls, so that the individual spaces remain open for staff observation and monitoring.
Dr. Louis Avvento, an oncologist in Riverhead since 1988, when he opened an office as a solo practitioner with just one nurse and a receptionist — said he’s seen a very dramatic change in cancer care over the years. Oncology practices are consolidating out of necessity, he said. It’s a matter of survival, Avvento said.
Larger practices have leverage with the insurance carriers, he said. They get more access to more drugs at better prices.
“The small practices get sort of cut out with the medications you need for your patients,” Avvento said. “Larger practices have a better position to negotiate. If you can’t negotiate a good contract, you end up paying more.” Sometimes insurance reimbursement is less than the cost of drugs, he said.
“A lot of small practices went under because of that,” Avvento said.
His practice, Eastern Long Island Hematology/Oncology, expanded with more physicians, medical and support staff and a second office in Southampton. In 2015, Eastern Long Island Hematology/Oncology merged with North Shore Hematology/Oncology. Last year, North Shore Hematology/Oncology merged with New York Cancer and Blood Services.
Running an oncology practice today entails not only complicated business management — including dealing with insurance carriers and negotiating contracts with them — but also requires extensive political knowledge and activity, Avvento said.
“Going to legislators, going to Washington, negotiating with legislators about bills that would ruin your practice by taking it out of the community setting and putting it in hospitals,” he said.
“Thank goodness we have people who dedicate themselves to doing that and running the practice at that level,” Avvento said.
It gives Avvento and other physicians the freedom to do what they love — care for patients.
And he loves the new setting for patient care.
“I can take care of people here that otherwise would have to be sent to the hospital,” Avvento said. He gives an example. “A patient walked in at 7:30 this morning, not feeling well. We started hydration, did blood work, blood cultures and gave antibiotics. We have a scanner can do a CT scan if needed. Come back tomorrow so we can check you. Otherwise, that patient would be sent to the ER,” he said.
“We’re really been able to help our patients and they are very grateful not having to go to the hospital.” Cancer patients who often have low blood counts should avoid the ER if at all possible, he said.
While all of these things are important — even crucial — to Avvento’s life work, mere mention of the treatments available today makes the veteran physician’s face light up. thing that
“These new drugs — they’re making life exciting,” Avvento said. “We can actually treat patients more effectively than we could ever do before. A lot of our population is elderly — 75-plus, 80, even 90. To be able to treat somebody with cancer or leukemia who’s 90 years old and not hurt them .. actually help them and put them in remission is just incredible,” Avvento said.
The field has made enormous strides, even in the last 10 years, he said.
“It’s so gratifying. This was a population that was underserved because no one would ever think about treating an 80- or 90-year-old person with chemotherapy — and rightly so. But nowadays, with immunotherapy and targeted drugs you can treat a 90-plus person and have them respond, not hurt them and their quality of life remains good,” Avvento said.
“The same holds true for the younger people, too. The targeted drug — it’s like not having anything at all. That’s the most exciting part now.”
Dr. Deepali Sharma, who joined Eastern Long Island Hematology/Oncology in 2011, echoed Avvento’s sentiments.
The rapidly changing field is an exciting place to be, she said.
“Immunotherapy, which was not around when I was training in oncology, has completely revolutionized cancer care,” she said.
“And it’s so fast-paced. The last time we had a new antibiotic —it’s been a while. But the last time we got a new cancer treatment was a week ago,” Sharma said.
“It’s so fascinating how we merge science with the practical, clinical aspects of things. I’m excited that they’re doing research and using it clinically and we’re seeing results.”
Sharma said she loves being able to provide comprehensive care where people live — and all in one location.
“People are stressed and tired they don’t want to go from one office to another,” she said.
Everything being under one roof also benefits the care itself, she said. It fosters communication among providers and results in better care.
Sharma said she especially enjoys the patient population on the East End. She was trained in Brooklyn and that was a very different environment.
“Here, everybody knows everybody,” she says.
“The patients are just wonderful. They remind me of my parents. So that’s how I treat them — the way I’d want my parents treated by their providers.”
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