Cancer center that sparked downtown Springfield development celebrates

The cancer center opened its West North Street facility in 2004, and the county’s two largest medical facilities - Ohio Valley Surgical Hospital and Springfield Regional Medical Center — have since been built nearby. The three have transformed a run-down industrial and residential section of downtown into a health care hub.

“The opening of the Springfield Regional Cancer Center 10 years ago marked the beginning of a transformation – of cancer care, health care partnerships and the face of downtown,” said Dave Lamb, spokesman for Community Mercy Health Partners, which runs the medical and cancer centers.

It was the success of the cancer center, he said, that showed what was possible through collaboration.

The facilities employ thousands in the health care jobs and replaced, in some cases, empty brownfield former factory sites.

For patients and doctors alike, the consolidation of so many medical choices in the heart of Springfield has meant they get to stay in their own community.

Bringing jobs downtown

CMHP is one of Clark County’s largest employers with about 2,500 total workers and Ohio Valley now employs about 200 people.

Not all of those jobs were new, but they were new to downtown.

CMHP Market President and CEO Paul Hiltz credits the efforts of local, state and federal leaders with having a vision for downtown that drove the development.

“The hospital could have worked in multiple spots,” he said. “But how do we make it accessible … and how do we revitalize the community?”

The cancer center was the first joint effort between Community Hospital and Mercy Medical Center before the two entities merged, and it paved the way for the eventual development of the larger medical center next door, said Mike McDorman, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

“Obviously that not only means opportunities for patients and families and caregivers, but it also means opportunities for employment,” he said.

The downtown area has benefited from the influx of employees at these facilities, he said.

“I know we’ve had dozens of employees who lived here in Springfield, but were commuting to Columbus or Dayton, and now they get to work here,” said Steve Eisentrager, president of Ohio Valley. Conversely, they’ve seen people who live in Columbus or Dayton who are now choosing to commute and work in Springfield, he said.

In addition, more than 300 students from high school interns through medical residents have come through programs at Ohio Valley since it’s opening in 2009, Eisentrager said. If local students can see health care job opportunities in Springfield, they may be more inclined to stay and work here, he said.

If you build it, they will come

Back in 2010, as downtown workers and patrons dealt with diverted traffic around the rising medical center, the Springfield News-Sun asked Springfield Regional’s then CEO Mark Wiener and Dr. Richard Nedelman, one of Ohio Valley’s 37 surgeon-investors, to envision what the future of downtown could look like thanks in part to the emergence of numerous health care facilities.

“We see the opportunity in the future for allied health functions and services to relocate in proximity to the hospital,” Wiener said during that interview. Both men also saw the potential for retail stores and restaurants to serve the thousands of employees, patients and guests coming and going from the hospital.

Those predictions have not fully come to fruition, but local business leaders are confident they still might.

“The restaurants and food trucks in the area surrounding those facilities appear to be doing well,” McDorman said. “However, we are still a long way from where we want to be in growing retail opportunities in downtown.”

Downtown redevelopment has always been a chicken and egg situation, he said. “We are adding jobs and visitors to downtown, but we still lack outside developers who are willing to invest there. Attracting them is a real priority for us as a community.”

The low-cost, high-quality care provided by these facilities could help draw companies to downtown and beyond, according to Hiltz, because companies see access to health care as an important amenity.

A patient-centered community

For some patients, the cooperative and centrally-located services provided by these centers has been life-changing.

Ellen Weidauer has just finished chemotherapy treatment at the cancer center and is now undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer.

She said her treatment experience has been radically different from her mother’s cancer treatment in Springfield 30 years ago, and not just because of technological advances.

“She didn’t get the leisure of coming here and having everything in one place,” Weidauer said.

That sense of community was part of the vision of the cancer center from the beginning, said Director of Oncology Pilar Gonzalez-Mock.

“It was for the patients, so they didn’t have to go to two different places,” she said.

Studies have shown that patients are actually safer when they are treated by a tight-knit medical community rather than seeing numerous doctors who don’t communicate with each other, Ohio Valley’s Eisentrager said.

The convenience and quality of services also means fewer people are spending their health care dollars outside of Clark County, McDorman said.

“You create an environment where people don’t have to leave the community to get those type of high-level, specialized services. So now we are able to retain a lot of those patients,” he said.

Hiltz said CMHP’s market share, or the percentage of people who live in Clark County who are choosing to get care locally, has increased during the last six months of 2013 and the first half of this year.

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