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The Exec: City of Hope Orange County Brings Cancer Care Closer to the Community

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   September 21, 2023

Annette Walker details the progress on the organization's Irvine campus and how the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center is already seeing results.

City of Hope's mission is "to transform the future of cancer care," and the academic cancer organization is making tangible steps to do just that.

Just this past year, City of Hope acquired what was previously Cancer Center Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), creating a larger organization to focus on cancer treatment, clinical trials, and the path to cancer cures.

Additionally, the organization's Orange County, California location opened the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in Irvine, California, and broke ground on a larger campus that will also house a specialty cancer hospital. The academic cancer organization aims to bring care to 20% of the population who have had to leave the Orange County area are able to receive specialized cancer care.

In a recent interview with HealthLeaders, City of Hope OC's president Annette Walker shares progress on the Irvine campus and how the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center is already helping patients close to home.

HealthLeaders: What outcomes have you seen since the opening of the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center in August 2022?

Annette Walker: Our volumes are 200% of what we thought we could do this first year and we've made some good progress on our long-term goals. [Previously, 19–20%] of people left Orange County for specialty cancer care and research. It's [now] down to 15%. I don't know if we're going to be able to take all credit for that, but we can take some credit for that, for sure. That will continue to grow because there's always a little bit of lag in those statistics, but there's been a big dent in it and that was part of our mission to come here was to be able to do that. People don't have to drive two hours for [cancer care] anymore. It's nice to be able to share that and to bring that level of expertise to this community.

HL: How does City of Hope's acquisition of what was previously CTCA help your work in Orange County?

Walker: City of Hope will have five facilities in five metropolitan markets of the United States that represent a very rich and diverse selection of patients. How much faster are we going to be able to get clinical trials done when we have access to those five facilities and all the patients who are in those facilities? To me, that's part of the greatest gift. It is a significant add to our capability to imagine when we get that engine fully functioning and we have clinical trials. I think last year we treated 135,000 people, but as City of Hope Atlanta, Chicago, and Phoenix becomes fully integrated, it's going to be even more. Ultimately when this is all said and done, we will be one of the largest cancer networks in the United States. Bigger's not always better, better is better. And this is better.

HL: How are things going with the development of the Irvine campus, including the construction of the specialty cancer hospital? Is it still slated to open in 2025?

Walker: I'm happy to say it's still on time; we're still aiming to open in 2025. It's going to be [around] 160,000 square feet. We did a different design in that the buildings were designed to operate like one. A lot of the high-powered diagnostics that normally are only in a hospital are already present in the Cancer Center and will support the hospital. And when you walk in, you basically step over the threshold of one into the other.

It will help us complete our promise to Orange County. There are a few things we can't do because we don't have a hospital yet, that we will be able to do in the hospital, and the patients won't have to travel to Duarte for those services. Additionally, we'll help even more people and be able to move the patients back and forth between inpatient and outpatient, and having all of that right here on this campus is going to be wonderful.

This expresses how I feel about it too, but we have a guy on our construction team who was also a City of Hope patient. And this is what he said when he was watching the steel go up, "this brought me so much joy this morning while we were building this beam by beam, column by column. We are dismantling the scourge of cancer." It brought tears to my eyes. There's nothing I could have said that would have expressed it better: we're not just building a building, we're building hope.

HL: Are there any other news that you would like to share about the other City of Hope OC locations?

Walker: The network is maturing as we figure out what we keep at the Lennar Foundation Cancer Center. Our dream is to move more research into the network sites. We're figuring out which facilities are the best to bring services to. We're building an integrated medicine practice for cancer patients, and so how do we make some of those services accessible in the community too, not just at Lennar.

You're going to see a lot more activity in the prevention area because that's the very best way to beat cancers. You're going to see a big contingent of that in Orange County and a lot of that might be done in the network as well as in some of our integrated medicine work. Every cancer patient needs integrated medical support.

HL: What other initiatives are you currently focused on as president of City of Hope OC?

Walker: One is getting everything built. But I have two other passions: one is Orange County itself, and that we make City of Hope not just an academic facility up on the hill; we want to be a citizen of Orange County. We want to be an active participant in this community and the leadership team and our staff are all working hard at making that happen.

The other is the development of leadership and how we can support people becoming better leaders. We have a thing we do here called "leadership between the lines" and we have management sessions, but we also have another session for anybody to come. You don't have to be a manager because you can lead from wherever you are. We encourage anybody who's interested in being a better leader, even if they don't have a management responsibility, participating and learning in the same way that our leaders are learning. Ultimately, all these things lead to cultural development, which is in sync with the legacy City of Hope.

“People don't have to drive two hours for [cancer care] anymore. It's nice to be able to share that and to bring that level of expertise to this community.”

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of City of Hope Orange County.

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