Greater Access to Life-Saving Care for Patients With Cancer Part of Proposal Submitted to State

Release Date: 
May 30, 2024

Berlin, Vt. – When John Campbell, a former Vermont state senator and president pro tempore, learned about his prostate cancer diagnosis, he immediately began worrying about how his life would be upended.

“Will I have to travel to Boston, New York City or farther for treatment? If so, that’s six weeks of work I’m missing. And I’ll be away from family and friends for that time,” recalls the 70-year-old Montpelier resident. “Instead, I was able to get the care I needed, less than ten minutes from my home.”

Just last week, Campbell rang a bell at The University of Vermont Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC), signifying he completed his final radiation treatment from the hospital’s linear accelerator.

It is a patient experience CVMC and the health system are working to make happen for as many people as possible who find themselves suddenly staring down cancer. That effort is part of a proposal the hospital submitted Tuesday to the Green Mountain Care Board for approval. The application is the first step in the health system’s multi-year plan to provide patients an integrated, academic oncology care experience across all of its facilities offering this treatment.

The project includes the replacement and upgrading of a linear accelerator at CVMC, updates to a shared patient oncology care planning system and the installation of new cloud-based software connecting oncology experts to patients, regardless of where they are receiving care within the health system.

“With this technology, we’ll have an opportunity to make a difference with many more lives in this community and across Vermont and northern New York. It’s what we set out to do every single day: ensure our patients have access to high-quality care in the modern facilities they deserve, close to home,” says Anna Tempesta Noonan, President and COO at CVMC.

Living just a few miles away from his appointments, Campbell knew getting his radiation treatments at the hospital would offer the convenience and flexibility he was looking for to continue working. He also found the level of expertise comforting.

“Their resumes showed these are some of the best doctors in the Northeast. So, knowing we have experts in their field who are close in proximity is a major relief,” Campbell explains. “The equipment is just as important. Combining great doctors with the latest medical equipment adds up to a big advantage for people like me fighting cancer.”

New technology aims to increase patient access and connect experts across the health system

Linear accelerators are an important tool for people requiring radiation therapy, targeting their tumors with pinpoint accuracy while preventing harm to nearby healthy tissue. They are used to treat cancers in numerous areas of the body, including brain, spine, lung, breast, esophagus, stomach, rectum, uterus, prostate, bladder, liver and bones.

“Right now, we’re providing the highest quality treatment with the technology we currently have at the hospital. The newer technology raises the bar even higher,” adds Carl Nelson, MD, Radiation Oncologist at CVMC whose work is also part of the University of Vermont Cancer Center. “We’ll do treatments more efficiently, faster and with greater clarity and accuracy.”

Because the linear accelerator will operate more efficiently, some treatment times could be cut in half, according to Dr. Nelson. Even a standard appointment that is set for 15 minutes could be trimmed to ten minutes.

“Shorter appointments mean patients can get on with their day and get back to the things they want to be doing away from cancer treatment when possible. We’ll have additional time available to see more patients throughout the day. And, it gives them more flexibility and convenience in the scheduling of appointments with more times available,” Dr. Nelson explains.

Additionally, the upgrades include the highest quality imaging that can be captured while the patient is receiving treatment, providing more clarity for providers as they tailor the care plan based on each person’s cancer – where it is in the body and how it is responding to the radiation. The new cloud-based software also offers deeper collaboration across the health system, meaning when patients are treated at CVMC, experts in Burlington, Plattsburgh and Malone will be able to weigh in when needed.

“We can get much more involved in cases at other facilities if necessary. One of our radiation oncologists in Plattsburgh, for instance, can lend a hand with a case we’re working on here in Berlin, because it is an area of expertise they have. We’ll be able to leverage a lot of our resources better, because we’re all going to have access to the same information,” Dr. Nelson points out.

“It’s the same as having every major cancer facility in the health system right in my backyard,” Campbell responds. “That gives me, as a patient, so much confidence, which is incredibly important when you’re facing something as serious as cancer.”

Next Steps

If approved by state regulators, construction is expected to begin in Berlin later this year with a go-live date in 2025.

The University of Vermont Health Network is also planning to replace and upgrade five linear accelerators at The University of Vermont Medical Center, Alice Hyde Medical Center and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

As for Campbell, he admits that the treatments are one of the most challenging things he has ever endured. And he says CVMC was the perfect fit for his cancer care..

“I am so impressed with the whole setup there. And when you’re dealing with cancer, you want to feel comfortable with the people who are caring for you. Well, they made me feel like part of the family right away. There’s no place I’d rather go,” he concludes.