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HRMC cancer care could impact up to 60,000 people in S.C.

First Byline: 
Michael M. DeWitt, Jr.

It's not often that a rural hospital can impact the lives of thousands in a multi-county area. But then again, Hampton Regional Medical Center (HRMC) is not your typical rural hospital. HRMC recently announced that it would be bringing an expert cancer care physician from Roper St. Francis (RSF), Charleston area's largest healthcare system, to offer extensive medical oncology services beginning June 9.
This announcement could potentially benefit up to 60,000 residents living in Hampton, Allendale, Bamberg, Beaufort, Colleton, Jasper and Barnwell counties and beyond, according to health officials.
"This is an opportunity for the hospital to expand our services and meet the needs within our community, and that is what we are here for," Dave Hamill, HRMC CEO, said. "But this would not be possible without our partnership with Roper St. Francis.
"There is definitely a high instance of cancer in this region and these services have not been available in the past. We feel that this is a great opportunity for our medical community to provide a service that is desperately needed. This is a win-win for everyone involved, especially the patient," said Hamill.
Dr. Steve Akman, medical director of Roper St. Francis Cancer Care who previously served as a cancer biology professor and university faculty member, will see patients at HRMC/Coastal Plains Physicians Associates every Monday through an innovative partnership with HRMC that allows area residents to receive high-quality cancer care close to home.
"Instead of bringing cancer patients to Charleston, we will be bringing our services to them," Dr. Akman said.
This also means many patients can avoid traveling to Columbia, Beaufort, Savannah or Augusta or elsewhere.
"It really is great for the patients," said Scott Broom, who oversees the Roper St. Francis oncology program. "Many of them require services multiple times a week and it's expensive to travel to Charleston. This is a better use of their time and resources. This is better for our patients, and I think it will translate into better outcomes. Where you live shouldn't determine the quality of care you get."
To narrow this impact down more directly, consider the fact that, according to national health data, one out of every 300 people will develop some form of cancer. Given this service area's population, that means that HRMC could help treat up to 167 new cancer cases per year. The types of cancer most common in rural South Carolina include lung, breast, colon and prostate cancer.
"Patients diagnosed with those cancers in rural areas like Hampton, Allendale, Bamberg, Jasper and surrounding counties generally have poorer outcomes than the rest of the state," Broom said. "We hope that this will change that."
For the individual patient, this could mean closer-to-home daily and weekly visits - treatments that could be required for months or even years, depending on the type of cancer and severity.
So why Hampton County? Roper St. Francis officials saw the disparity in cancer outcomes for this area compared to the rest of the state - and also saw a great medical resource and partner in HRMC.
"The medical staff here (at HRMC) are very forward thinking," Broom said. "The capabilities are here. Hampton has all the raw materials needed for us to bring the service and create a cancer presence in a part of South Carolina that truly needs it....The community is very fortunate to have this facility. It creates the infrastructure we need in order to come here and provide important oncology services."
"The administration here (at HRMC) had already created the infrastructure in Hampton County, all we had to do was take advantage of it," Dr. Akman added. "Hampton Regional showed the commitment to do this, and without that commitment this wouldn't have happened."
Dr. Akman also wants to remind people that in the war against cancer awareness, prevention and regular screening can have a great impact and can help save your life.
Dr. Akman will begin seeing patients at Coastal Plains on June 9 to begin cancer screenings and consultations.
Once the program gets fully established, and the local staff receives additional support training, Dr. Akman will offer a wide range of services that will include personalized cancer treatment based on molecular analysis, chemotherapy infusion, biological therapy and clinical trials. No timetable has been announced yet, but once the facility and staff are ready treatments will be administered on the hospital's main campus. This is expected to take a couple of months.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Akman, patients should call 843-606-8250.

More about Dr. Akman:
Dr. Akman, who has a total of 35 years of oncology experience, became the medical director of Roper St. Francis Cancer Care in February 2013. He previously served as a high-ranking faculty member of Wake Forest University School of Medicine and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. His tenure as a professor of cancer biology included several appointments and active participation in research studies, and his work appeared in more than 100 publications during his time with the university.
Dr. Akman also served as a staff physician at the prestigious City of Hope Cancer Research and Treatment Center in California for 10 years. His career has included work with the National Cancer Institute as the director of various research projects and grants.
While at Roper St. Francis, Akman has actively explored strategies that provide patients greater access to specialists, treatment, clinical trials and support services.
Akman, a Baltimore native, lives in Charleston with his wife, Anita, who is an artist and photographer who owns her own art gallery. The couple has three adult children and their hobbies include the arts and enjoying the coastal South Carolina life.

About Hampton Regional Medical Center:
Hampton Regional Medical Center is an award-winning private, not-for-profit hospital located in the majestic Lowcountry of South Carolina. Affiliated with Roper St. Francis, it has been providing services to the region since 1950. The 32-bed hospital is 85,000 SF and has on-site 24-hour emergency care, state-of-the art diagnostic imaging services, laboratory, surgery, and rehabilitation. It is the recipient of the 2012 South Carolina Outstanding Rural Healthcare Organization of the Year.

The hospital campus includes two medical office buildings that house Coastal Plains Physician Associates and Primary Care. The multi-specialty physician group is a not-for-profit organization, and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hampton Regional Medical Center. Coastal Plains offers services in primary care medicine, general surgery, orthopedics, cardiology and radiology. Additionally, the hospital works with physician specialists from around the state to provide on-site appointments in neurology, ophthalmology, podiatry and vascular & vein.
For more information about Hampton Regional Medical Center and Coastal Plains, visit: www.hamptonregional.org
About Roper St. Francis:
Roper St. Francis has three flagship hospitals strategically located in key growth areas across the region: Roper Hospital on the Charleston peninsula, Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in the West Ashley region and Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital in Mount Pleasant. The system intends to build a fourth flagship hospital in the Carnes Crossroads section of Berkeley County.
Roper St. Francis is one of the Lowcountry's largest private employers with more than 5,200 employees. The healthcare system has a robust, active medical staff of more than 800 doctors representing every medical specialty and provides services in more than 100 locations in seven counties.
In total, Roper St. Francis provides: five full-service Emergency Departments; three helipads, including the region's only hospital-rooftop helipad at the Roper campus; and the regionally renowned inpatient Roper Rehabilitation Hospital. Each of the system's three hospitals includes adjacent medical office buildings, and the Bon Secours St. Francis campus boasts a freestanding comprehensive Cancer Center.
Roper St. Francis is one of two private, not-for-profit healthcare providers in the Lowcounty (HRMC is the other). The 657-bed system comprises more than 90 facilities and services. Learn more at www.rsfh.com.

About Roper St. Francis Cancer Care:
A multidisciplinary treatment paradigm is critical for delivery of highly effective cancer care. At RSF, standardized cancer care is delivered through:
-Multidisciplinary tumor conferences for breast cancer, thoracic, urologic, and general oncology (rectal cancer in planning stage) occur weekly with care plan development adhering to evaluation and management guidelines set by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).
-A disease-focused care model coordinated by nurse navigators that fosters close, real-time collaboration/coordination between treating specialties.
-Monitoring of adherence to national cancer care quality benchmarks by participating in the American College of Surgeons Rapid Quality Reporting System.
-In-house tumor gene sequencing, which enables testing of tumor specimens for molecular mutations with marked cost reductions for both testing and treatment.
-RSF is a charter member of the Carolinas Healthcare System's Levine Cancer Institute (LCI), which has developed clinical treatment protocols for nearly all cancers weighing comparative effectiveness data in the selection of drugs promoted for use.