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Excela’s New Surgical Institute Keys on Cancer Care

Excela’s New Surgical Institute Keys on Cancer Care

Excela Health continues to raise the bar for quality patient care, with the creation of the Excela Health Surgical Institute, based at Excela Latrobe Hospital, with a focus on cancer care.

View photos from the open house here

“This announcement represents yet another major commitment by the System to continue its evolution from a capable, community-based confederation of hospitals to a true System of care,” said John Sphon, Excela Health Chief Executive Officer, “one that can provide tertiary and quaternary care in virtually all specialties of medicine and whose quality and outcomes are on par or exceed those of the finest like programs in the nation.”

Excela Health previously established the Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute, with Westmoreland Hospital serving as the hub of cardiovascular surgical care.
The entire Surgical Institute project represents a $10 million investment by the health system in both technology and facility upgrades. To support the build-out of the program, the Latrobe Area Hospital Charitable Foundation (LAHCF) has committed $2 million in support.

“While still faced with the challenges of COVID-19, the Foundation continues to move forward in its fundraising efforts to help launch Latrobe Hospital, in partnership with UPMC Hillman Cancer, as the premier surgical cancer center in the area,” said Foundation board chair Thomas P. Gessner, MD. “Through the gift of an anonymous estate donor, LAHCF facilitated the purchase a new DaVinci robot, enhanced high dose radiation equipment needed for prostate procedures, and funded the critical renovations and upgrades needed to modernize the Latrobe Hospital Pharmacy, all necessary to the creation of the Surgical Institute.

“The Foundation’s board of trustees is committed to bringing the most advanced care and treatments to our patients now and in the future and proud to support Excela Health in assuring excellence in cancer care for our community,” added Dr. Gessner, as part of his remarks during the October 27 ribbon cutting.

Housed on the second floor of Excela Latrobe Hospital, the Surgical Institute features a state-of-the-art Operating Room. The centerpiece of that OR is the daVinci Xi, the latest iteration of the surgical robot which was acquired in 2019. Other instrumentation including a navigational bronchoscopy system and operating room equipment also were included in the upgrade. Additionally, patient rooms and staff work areas have been remodeled in keeping with the continuing modernization of the entire hospital.
Excela Health thoracic surgeon Michael Szwerc, MD, who focuses his practice on the care of the lung cancer patient, is taking a leading role in the development of the Surgical Institute.

“As a surgeon, I am always looking for ways to improve quality of life, and key to helping patients navigate a cancer diagnosis is seamless coordinated care from the first inkling of a problem to the last follow-up after treatment,” said Dr. Szwerc, program champion. “We are so fortunate in Westmoreland County to have such resources right here. The creation of the Surgical Institute allows us to bring greater focus to these resources and the entire patient experience within a center of excellence,” added Dr. Szwerc, who is also medical director of Robotic Surgery and Director for the Center for Lung and Thoracic Disease at Excela Health.

“Here we will bring various surgical disciplines together, and provide them the latest robotic surgical instrumentation. This collective expertise both in talent and technology means the best possible outcomes for those in our care. The Institute will continue to grow in depth and scope over time, and I am proud to be on the forefront of its creation and centering my surgical practice here.”

The patients Dr. Szwerc sees are dealing with lung cancer. Formerly a deadly diagnosis, lung cancer care was transformed by a large national research study, published in 2011, that revealed the role that low-dose CT scanning plays in identifying lung nodules and tumors early, when they can be successfully treated. Monthly, more than 300 scans are performed at Excela with a detection rate of about 3% — twice that of other areas in the country, which can be attributed not only to tobacco use, but also occupational exposure.

In the coming months, other physician specialists who treat breast, colorectal, urological and gyne cancers among others will come together under one Operating Room at Excela Latrobe Hospital, where the synergy of collaboration will continue to flourish.

Beyond the operating room, Excela Health has a well-established and long-standing partnership with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center that assures patients superior oncology care, including the latest in immunotherapy and endocrine therapy. Medical and radiation oncologists at the Arnold Palmer Pavilion, Excela’s joint venture at Mountain View Medical Park, have been serving Westmoreland County for more than two decades, and utilizing Latrobe Hospital where they also have the latest tools for delivering stereotactic body radiation therapy and high dose rate brachytherapy. Patients also may participate in a number of clinical trials locally that improve overall outcomes and lead to future innovation. This partnership provides the best of all possible worlds: convenience, quality, technology, and care so that patients do not need to travel to Pittsburgh.

Carol Fox, MD, Excela Health Chief Medical Officer, emphasized the significance of this announcement to system recruitment efforts. “A health system that has an expansive slate of physician specialists is attractive to yet other medical professionals. This allows the talent cycle to continue. It allows our community continuous access to the best providers. Our commitment to service enhancements such as the Surgical Institute make it easier to recruit other experts, and demonstrate our commitment to our community to bring the very best here.”

Dr. Gessner has a deep appreciation for the advances that have occurred in diagnosing and treating cancer. “Back in the 1970s, I was a bench chemist at the National Cancer Institute Laboratory of Biochemistry, where we were identifying molecules - work that eventually led to today’s therapies. It’s incredible.

“I often remind people that Latrobe was the first community hospital to develop an affiliation with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center,” he adds. “This progress -- providing meaningful treatment of cancer to where we’re prolonging healthy survival -- is real. Can we deliver such a high level of excellence at Latrobe? Yes, we can.”