Five years, 30,000 lives touched: Smilow Cancer Hospital celebrates a milestone

YNHH employee Darriell Rolka, center, became close to her care givers during her successful treatment for breast cancer at Smilow Cancer Hospital. She has been treated at the York Street cancer hospital and the Smilow Cancer Care Center at Shoreline Medical Center in Guilford, where she recently shared a laugh with some of the many staff involved in her care (l-r): Kay Oddie, RN; Lynn Riordan, radiation therapist; Ann-Teresa Jasman, chief radiation therapist; Elizabeth Sanderson, RN; Wajih Zaheer, MD; Krista Bello, RN; and Karen Lovington, radiation therapist.

In October 2009, Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven officially opened its doors, changing the future of cancer care in the region and beyond.

"In just five years we have created an extraordinary and special place, staffed by world-class physicians and clinicians who are leaders in their fields," said Abe Lopman. senior vice president, Operations and executive director, Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven. "We treated 30,000 patients, including those with the most challenging cancers, and we made great strides in treatment and research."

Part of Yale New Haven Hospital and the clinical home of Yale Cancer Center, Smilow Cancer Hospital includes the 14-story, 500,000-square-foot cancer hospital in New Haven, with operating rooms, infusion suites, diagnostic imaging services, specialized women's and children's facilities and diagnostic and therapeutic radiology services for children and adults, along with 10 Smilow Cancer Care Centers and radiation oncology centers throughout Connecticut.

Smilow has grown in both size and scope of services, with more than 12 specialized programs treating patients with brain, breast, endocrine, gynecologic, urologic, head and neck, pediatric and other types of cancer.

"Our goal is to provide the world's best cancer care — bringing new treatments that offer hope to patients throughout the nation," said Thomas Lynch, MD, physician-in-chief, Smilow Cancer Hospital, and director, Yale Cancer Center. "This year more than 800 patients will participate in therapeutic clinical trials which greatly increase their options in treating their cancer."

Among Smilow Cancer Hospital's many achievements in the first five years are:

  • The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), an alliance of the world's leading cancer centers, welcomed Yale Cancer Center/Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven as an NCCN Member Institution.
  • Yale Cancer Center renewed its National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation.
  • Smilow has scored consistently high on patient experience surveys, reflecting staff members' and physicians' emphasis on the emotional and spiritual care of patients and their loved ones.
  • The Closer To Free annual bike ride has grown from 249 riders to more than 1,220 last year, when riders raised over $1.2 million for Smilow Cancer Hospital and Yale Cancer Center.

In addition, Yale New Haven Hospital's York Street campus, including Smilow and associated ambulatory sites, received Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

"The nursing staff at Smilow are experts in their fields, but they are also incredibly caring and compassionate," said Catherine Lyons, RN, MS, executive director, Patient Care Services, Smilow Cancer Hospital.

"I felt like the nurses were my sisters," said Darriell Rolka, executive secretary, Administration, Yale New Haven Hospital, who was treated for breast cancer at Smilow last year. "They made me very comfortable during treatment."

Rolka had participated in three consecutive Closer To Free rides before her cancer diagnosis because she enjoys cycling and considered the ride a great fundraiser for a worthy cause.

"I never thought I'd be a patient at Smilow," she said. "I did not expect to do my fourth Closer To Free ride as a survivor."

She completed the 25-mile ride shortly after starting 17 weeks of chemotherapy, which was followed by five weeks of radiation therapy. With her cancer in remission, she is currently enrolled in a clinical trial for a medication designed to prevent recurrence. Rolka said throughout her care, she's had an entire team of physicians, nurses and other care providers working together to provide individualized care.

"I've never felt like a ‘patient' at Smilow; I feel like I'm treated as a person," she said. "Smilow is a special place."