When East Alabama Medical Center (EAMC) in Opelika knew their cancer center was outgrowing its space, they turned to an architect who had worked with them for over 17 years to help design a state of the art facility with an emphasis on the best medical technology and healing arts.
Architect J. Douglas McCurry, Jr. AIA NCARB, grew up in Opelika and still has family there. "This hospital has meant a lot to me," he said. "It's personal."
The Cancer Center opened in 1992 and was housed on the campus in the main building of EAMC. "We went through several renovations over the years," said Chris Clark, vice president of Clinical Services at the Spencer Cancer Center. "We eventually ran out of space for further expansion, so we began to look at an alternate site."
EAMC officials wanted a facility that provided a healing atmosphere for patients and their families. "The building design was extremely important to the healing process of our patients. There is the medical side, but there is also the environment in which the patients receive treatment," Clark said. "We not thought about the equipment that was needed for the facility, such as the number of infusion chairs, but also how that facility was laid out, such as where the chairs would be in correlation to the windows and the view. And we took into account ancillary services."
McCurry, who works for TRO JB architects in Birmingham, strove for the feel of an art museum with lots of windows looking out to a natural habitat. "The design is contemporary in nature," he said. "I like to use the term of 'healing art.' Research shows that healthcare environments that display art can actually help reduce pain and shorten hospital stays. Patients respond especially well to nature themes."
The two-story building has a stone base with aluminum and glass on the top story. "The exterior material selections represent the advancement of medicine over time," McCurry said. "The stone represents the earlier years, and as the building grows upward, the aluminum panels and glass represent the modern technology used in medicine today."
Once the site was chosen, McCurry let the landscape dictate the shape of the parking lot and much of the building design. "We moved very little dirt," he said. "We didn't take out any major old growth trees."
The lobby, which is on the upper floor, has high ceilings, cheerful light fixtures, and a light, clean design. When patients come for radiation treatments, they can enter from a different parking lot on a different level, for easy access.
But the design is just one feature of the center that makes it unique. It is a one-stop facility with state of the art technology.
The 60,000 square foot center boasts two linear accelerators, an HDR (high dose rate) room, a PET/CT Simulator Suite, four physician offices, 12 exam rooms, a laboratory, and 38 infusion patient chairs, which face a wooded area.
On one side of the airy lobby are boutique shops catering to the needs of cancer patients. Wigs, hats, scarves, specialty bras, mastectomy products, and prosthetics are among the items that are available at the facility. Gift shops also carry items that friends and family can purchase for patients when they accompany them to treatment.
On the other side of the lobby are an outpatient pharmacy and a specialty pharmacy. "Our patients may need drugs for pain control, nausea, or side effects of treatment," Clark said. "They are able to get those drugs without having to make another stop before they go home.
"We also know that more and more drugs for chemo patients are specialty oral medications. Our patients were having to mail order those medications. Now they can get their specialty medicines here right away, or we can deliver to their home. Not only is it convenient for the patient, but it also allows us to track compliance."
The building also includes a chapel off the main lobby. "Drugs meet a physical need, but we needed a space for spiritual needs as well," Clark said. "Patients and family members can go there for some quiet time."
There are a number of meeting rooms that provide space for community support groups to meet, and a conference room on the bottom floor accommodates 70 to 80 people for case reviews.
The center treats multiple types of cancer, including the top four: breast, lung, colon, and prostate cancer. "We treat cancer types across the board, and we are accredited by the American College of Surgeons," Clark said.