By Marcy SanchezApril 26, 2019
Over a half century of experience in providing cancer care is evident today at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
Since 1954 WBAMC has maintained its accreditation as a Commission on Cancer program, through the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the longest running cancer program of its type in the Department of Defense and the city of El Paso.
"We have a full complement of highly-trained staff, offering expertise in various specialties of cancer care," said Maj. Daniel Nelson, surgical oncologist and director of the Commission on Cancer at WBAMC. "We can provide the full spectrum of care to our beneficiaries. We have every resource that could be expected at most major cancer centers."
According to the ACS, the Commission on Cancer program recognizes cancer care programs for their commitment to providing comprehensive, high-quality, and multidisciplinary patient centered care.
"We want to be better than the standard, we want to make sure we are doing everything that the commission has asked us to do, and then elevate our program to the next level," said Deborah Pinedo, supervisor, Cancer Registry.
Annually, approximately 300 patients receive care for cancer at WBAMC, with procedures at the Military Treatment Facility ranging from major complex surgical operations to state-of-the-art minimally invasive and interventional techniques. But these professionals don't strictly rely on current capabilities as they are constantly performing research, looking for new trial opportunities and implementing the latest technological advancements into plans of care.
The hospital is capable of managing care for patients diagnosed with everything from breast cancer and colon cancer, to more complex cases such as pancreatic and liver cancers, even soft tissue sarcomas and other rare tumors can be treated at the MTF, according to Nelson.
The unique relationship with the El Paso VA Healthcare System provides an assortment of cases not normally found in younger active-duty beneficiaries. This wide array of pathology and complexity of cases seen at WBAMC goes a long way to benefit the readiness of surgical residents.
"It is a tremendous honor to care for service members, their dependents and retirees. Thankfully, we don't see a lot of cancer in active duty Soldiers. Generally, cancer is a disease of the elderly. Having the opportunity to care for VA beneficiaries is definitely a strength, not only for my own professional growth and that of our (surgical) residents in training, but also creates the opportunity for these patients to receive excellent care close to home" said Nelson, a Phoenix native. "We have a full complement of medical oncologists, we have a great relationship with the community, (a local area) medical director is on our Commission on Cancer committee here and participates in our weekly tumor boards, so it's really a collaboration not only between WBAMC as an institution but as a community across El Paso."
Recently, surgeons at WBAMC introduced new capabilities as part of cancer care including robotic-assisted minimally-invasive surgery, state-of-the-art imagery systems, and even new minimally-invasive outpatient radiation treatments such as yttrium-90, more commonly known as Y-90.
"We want to be able to provide the best, most comprehensive, care for our patients," said Nelson. "I'm very confident we can provide the highest quality medical care here. That's what we all want, to provide the best care for our patients, and the best learning environment for our residents, so wherever they go they can take what they've learned and implement it at their next duty station."
As a testament to the program's commitment to top care, Nelson, who completed surgical oncology fellowship training at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in California, is the only board-certified surgical oncologist in El Paso. While there are other board-certified general surgery and medical oncology providers in the area, Nelson has the distinct honor of being the first to become board-certified in the surgical oncology specialty. Furthermore, local hospitals pursuing Commission on Cancer accreditation seek out Ms. Pinedo due to her expertise in the accreditation process and the program overall.
Outside the hospital, staff participate in medical conferences to include medical and research presentations to help advance their respective fields.
"Not only are we treating patients to the best of evidenced-based guidelines, but we're also doing research to answer unknown questions and to continue improving care," said Nelson.
Additionally, Cancer Registry staff aim to raise awareness through monthly events, participation in local awareness events and have even incorporated pre-intake distress screening tools to help identify patients who may benefit from additional support, whether that support comes through local support groups or behavioral health.
"It can be extremely anxiety provoking to be told you have a diagnosis of cancer," said Nelson. "Identifying those patients who may need additional assistance and support to deal with the gravity of their diagnosis and managing the intensive care they are going to require over the next few months is extremely beneficial."
Because one of WBAMC's primary focus is maintaining the medical readiness of service members, survivorship care plans were implemented after all patients complete their treatment to help patients, and their future providers identify necessary tests and other measures to continue surveillance.
"Some of our patients, if they are active duty, may go to other institutions," said Pinedo. "If they have their survivorship care plan, it informs other providers what type of treatment was rendered, and information regarding follow ups."
"The biggest takeaway is (WBAMC) is as good as it gets for (cancer) care in El Paso," said Nelson.