Next-Generation Cancer Care at Your Fingertips: How Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 Brings the Promise of Immunotherapy to America’s Small Hospitals in a Big Way

Introducing the National Community Hospital Consortium

Among the major high-visibility trends discussed in healthcare today, one trend that poses a threat to accessible, high-quality care to many Americans, particularly those who will be diagnosed with cancer, is happening under the radar.  This trend is the virtual extinction of many of our nation’s community and rural hospitals.  Experts estimate that somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 of the approximately 5,000 acute care hospitals in the United States today will close by the year 2020—and some think even this estimate is conservative. Yet, if we truly believe in value-based, coordinated care that places the patient at the center of that care, then we must work to ensure that high-quality, cutting-edge treatment exists right where patients live—not solely in major metropolitan areas.  Disease, cancer in particular, does not just strike in our large cities. In fact, our rural communities experience incidences of cancer per resident more frequently than those of us in major metropolitan areas.  So, what three key things do we need to know to address this problem?

1.  Big Does Not Equal Better

In my years treating patients with cancer, I have found that the number one concern after diagnosis is whether or not the individual will receive the most advanced available treatment.  The perception, especially in this country, is that bigger is better and that only major hospitals and academic centers have the most innovative care.  But this is not always reality. In fact, research bears out time and time again that many smaller facilities are on par with major centers when it comes to what matters: patient outcomes and costs. 

2.  Putting Patients in the Center of Care Means Care Where They Are Located

One of the biggest concerns of a cancer patient, aside from access to the best care, is burdening their loved ones as they go through treatment.  For cancer patients, proximity to their physician is critical.  Not only can treatment be exhausting, but many cancer patients are older with mounting health and mobility concerns. Analysis of the geographic distribution of physicians specializing in medical oncology highlights several areas of concern. First, the distribution of physicians is heavily skewed toward urban areas. In general, oncologists are concentrated in the Northeast, Gulf of Mexico, and Great Lakes regions, as well as in Florida. This is a big accessibility problem.

Additionally, cancer care in a patient’s community can be hugely beneficial in terms of the community support they can enjoy—social services, counselors, support groups, and wellness programs they can easily access.  The impact of the entire community’s ecosystem working on a patient’s behalf can meaningfully contribute to quality of life during and after treatment—not to mention peace of mind. This combined with knowledge that their community hospital is fully equipped with state-of-the-art skills and treatment truly puts the cancer patient at the center of care.

3.  Rural Areas Desperately Need Local Access

Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population lives in rural areas and what many don’t know is that rural Americans are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses than their urban and suburban counterparts. In fact, statistics show that the incidence of disease, and even cancer, are higher among rural residents—up to almost one and a half times higher.  If the industry’s predictions of widespread closure of America’s rural hospitals transpire, we will deliver a medical injustice to those who need care most.

What Do We Do About It? Introducing the National Community Hospital Consortium

Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 is uniting these community and rural hospitals together under the National Immunotherapy Coalition.  The Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber and the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber will serve as a model for other community and rural hospitals across the country that may be interested in participating in the National Immunotherapy Initiative.  By engaging small hospitals, this program will enable the administration of cancer treatment in local communities, rather than requiring patients to travel to tertiary academic centers to access clinical trials. We will also drive partnerships with community oncologists in these small community hospitals who can enroll patients in the QUantitative Integrated Life Long Trial (QUILT) Program to access the most advanced novel and approved combination immunotherapy protocols, including full genome proteome sequencing (GPS Cancer) and access to vaccine based immunotherapy.

To accomplish this, we will adopt a similar methodology to a NCI Community Cancer Centers Program Pilot that took place in 2007. The program spent three years building a community-based research platform in 16 hospitals to support a wide range of basic, clinical, and population-based research across the cancer care continuum.  Participating hospitals effectively enhanced their cancer research capacity and improved their quality of care for key indications of breast and colon cancer treatment, established stronger relationships with their key cancer physicians, and implemented new treatment initiatives. In addition, the program helped community hospitals enhance their capacity to provide state-of-the-art cancer care in several respects such as immunotherapy and especially, their involvement in clinical trials research.

We believe this model will help quell fears of getting yesterday's therapy when it comes to cancer care and that the community-based approach will develop a treatment protocol that is clinician-led and patient-focused with deliverable clinical trials and practices in this new era of 21st century immunotherapy. Simply putthe best there is to offer. Patients will receive care in a convenient and cooperative manner in their respective local community by spreading the demand across the whole healthcare system, using the skills of the talented clinicians in small communities. By bolstering these smaller facilities, not eliminating them, Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 will help bring these great innovation hubs together under the umbrella of the National Immunotherapy Coalition (NIC) and establish the National Community Hospital Consortium to expand the reach of NIC and influence and to ensure access to innovative care (and comfort) to all Americans.

Community Hospital Spotlight


The first of many of America’s smaller hospitals to join the National Immunotherapy Coalition—The Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center located in Windber, PA is a 56-bed nonprofit, community hospital dedicated to providing excellence in personalized, quality healthcare services through innovation, research, and education in response to the needs of the community. For over 100 years, the hospital has been serving patients with the highest level of quality care and customer service. Our philosophy of patient-centered care helps to improve quality of life by healing the mind, body, and spirit. 

“Participation in Cancer Breakthroughs 2020 represents an important milestone in the continuing growth and success at the Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber (CSSMCAW), formerly Windber Medical Center, and the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber (CSSIOMMAW), formerly Windber Research Institute. It is through this symbiotic relationship that we are uniquely positioned to participate in this historic initiative on both the clinical and research sides. Since CSSIOMMAW’s inception it was  decided to pursue a strategy to become a translation research center of excellence.   During the past 15 years tremendous collaborative progress has been made in fulfilling this vision of patient-centered research and care. We are convinced Breakthroughs 2020 will  transform our organizational vision to reality”

- Tom Kurtz, President and CEO