Cancer center ahead of schedule

ALAMOSA — A three and a half year fundraising project will see its finished goal a lot sooner than anticipated. San Luis Valley Health Foundation Director Kelly Gurule revealed at Alamosa Rotary Club's meeting on Monday that the hospital's cancer center is expected to be completed in January and may open its doors as early as February.

The construction, which started in June, was originally slated to take roughly a year.

The 5,000 square-foot expansion will allow for 10 patients, up from four, to be treated simultaneously. Gurule predicts that the hospital will see over 100 patients by the end of the year and that demand is why Dr. Penny Cooper was hired as their first full-time oncologist in 2014. The new center will have its own clinic with multiple exam rooms, allowing Cooper to see her patients under one roof instead of traveling back and forth from the clinic on Stuart Avenue.

"Our cancer numbers are not higher than any place else in the United States, it’s just that...we're very, very good about early detection," Gurule said. "Breast cancer isn't much more prevalent, but we're finding it, and diagnosing it and treating it.

"I wish we were building a playground. I wish there wasn't a need, but guess what? There's a need."

Along with chemotherapy, the center will offer IV infusions to treat arthritis, anemia, hepatitis and osteoporosis. Having the necessary care available locally will be more efficient and safer than traveling outside of the Valley. However, the center will not provide radiation due to the lack of a radiation oncologist.

"We can only offer so much but I'm very proud of what we've done," said Gurule. "Five years ago I would have said we couldn't do one-stop shopping but women can now come in and have a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy on the same day."

The facility will have infusion chairs equipped with tablets and televisions, a conference center, break room and ample space for friends and family to visit patients.

"There's a positive thing about having that support and any time we can keep grandma and grandpa close to home so the grandkids can visit is great," said Gurule.

The SLV Health Foundation, which has existed for over 13 years, has raised approximately $1.3 million of the expansion's estimated $2.5 million total. To help close the gap the organization is selling engraved bricks that will be placed on a pathway to the cancer center. Interested donors can purchase bricks online.