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Community Howard installs temporary radiation center

$1 million building allows patients to continue treatment during upgrades

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radiation center

PATIENT EXPERIENCE — Using a crane, the pieces of the pre-fabricated building are put into place.

Community Howard Regional Health found a unique way for patients to continue radiation therapy on-site while current radiation equipment is being upgraded.

The hospital dished out $1 million to bring a traveling, temporary, factory-fabricated building to Kokomo that is serving as the hospital’s radiation therapy center until construction wraps up around February. Without the temporary facility, the hospital would have had to send patients to Indianapolis to continue treatment within the Community Howard network.

George Mast, communications manager at Community Howard Regional Health, said providing a continuum of care during construction was important.

“We wanted to make sure people could still get their care here locally versus having to travel somewhere else because treatment is often daily,” Mast said. “If they want to stay within our system, to travel to Indy for weeks would be quite a burden. So it’s a financial investment for the hospital, but it’s worth it for the patient experience and for them to still see the care team they love and trust.”

The building by RAD Technical Medical Systems is known as a TRV (temporary radiation system). It comes in four parts and a roof and was transported last month to Kokomo from Avon, Ind., where it previously had been used by IU Health West Hospital. Community Howard marks the seventh site to use the TRV.

It originally was built in South Whitley, Ind., and has since made its way around the country.

Hayes Brothers helped with the construction, which required piecing together the four core pieces and installing the roof using a 350-ton crane.

Since it’s a radiation therapy center, the building’s walls and roof had to be filled with sand – 70 dump truck loads. The door to the radiation room itself weighs 20,000 pounds.

The TRV came fully furnished with a linear accelerator, reception area, waiting area, office space, and restroom.

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PATIENT EXPERIENCE — Cara Varkas, medical physicist with Community Howard, stands inside the center's radiation room.

Cara Varkas, a medical physicist with Community Howard, said she was thankful the hospital invested in the temporary radiation treatment center.

“You can imagine; Working with a team if you’ve got cancer, and, say, you’re in your fourth week of six weeks of treatment. If they were like, ‘Sorry, you’ve got to go get used to a whole other team of people,’ it would affect them mentally. They get really close to the therapists because they see the same therapist every single day,” Varkas said. “So it’s really awesome the hospital decided to do this.”

The hospital currently is in the midst of upgrading its linear accelerator, which is used to give radiation treatment, to the latest version, the Varian True Beam, which comes with a $3 million price tag. The equipment will allow the hospital to expand its services and have the ability to treat more types of cancer, including smaller lesions.

The last time the hospital upgraded the radiation equipment was in 2004, and at that time the hospital added onto a wing to ensure treatment for patients continued.

To put the investment into perspective, Mast said when Community Howard was built in 1961, it cost $2.5 million to build.