New Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Cancer Clinic opening at Coconut Point
By D. K. Christi
Four years since her breast cancer diagnosis on her 40th birthday, Molly Grubbs, community and business relations representative at Lee Health, is on the home stretch. She recently celebrated her 44th birthday with her last chemo treatment behind her, cancer free with follow-up estrogen blockers to prevent recurrence.
“The journey to recovery for me included overcoming the shock of the diagnosis, a schedule of appointments with physicians, surgeries, chemo and radiation, and pursuing recovery,” she explained. “At the critical health point, I was faced with finding the best care and getting there and back. Lee Health’s nurse navigator was a wonderful resource to help me figure out the process steps.”
Facing a diagnosis of cancer is life changing — and terrifying. The stress of seeking the best care providers and treatment plan is often compounded by travel time to frequent appointments. It can all be daunting to patients and their families at a time when rest and serenity are needed to aid healing.
There’s soon to be some solace for Estero residents living with a cancer diagnosis. The Lee Health Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Cancer Clinic is set to open at Bonita Health Center in July 2023 with state-of-the-art oncology treatment and complete infusion services, fulfilling Lee Health’s goal to meet the needs of patients in south Lee County and beyond.
“We provide the best care to everyone without the need to pay for concierge service or travel far from home,” said Chris Simoneau, chief development, marketing and communications officer. “That’s why Lee health is expanding services from their Regional Cancer Center in Fort Myers to communities that need complete services locally. Care begins with a nurse navigator who helps the patient with every aspect of their cancer care journey.”
Grubbs considers herself fortunate — being in a position to take advantage of the best physicians and newest technology in the Lee Health system.
“My home was near the Lee Regional Cancer Center in Fort Myers, and I worked in the Estero-Bonita Springs area and at Lee Health Coconut Point. I navigated the best of both with the help of the nurse navigator to guide me and assist me with what otherwise might feel overwhelming,” Grubbs said. “The new cancer clinic at Bonita Health Center will provide the same concierge-like services I received, only at one place where residents won’t have to travel far and can get their needed rest at home.”
In February, Grubbs helped run a Pedal-A-Thon fundraiser for the new cancer center at Lee Health Coconut Point. Simoneau said the event was great fun with several hundred riders raising about $12,000 while getting exercise and gaining friends. Cycle Bar furnished stationary bikes and instructors. Grubbs also participated in a fundraiser fashion show with other survivors who shared their experiences.
Today Grubbs puts her energy into the activities she loves – the beach, cold plunges and salt floats, health and wellness, and time with her family.
“I just love my job,” she said. “I don’t need to get away – talking about healthy living is right in step with my passion.”
Lee Health’s New Leaders in Oncology
“Cancer has touched almost all our lives in one way or another,” said Deb Wilson, appointed Lee Health Vice President of Oncology in 2021. “I have spent my nursing career with oncology patients and have also experienced the pain of loved ones with the dreaded diagnosis and treatment.”
Wilson comes to Lee Health from Roper St. Francis Healthcare in Charleston, SC, where she served as system associate vice president of oncology services and chief administrative officer for Roper St. Francis Mt. Pleasant Hospital.
Dr. Mark Roh, chief physician executive of oncology services, joined Wilson in 2022, forming a strategic planning duo that is expanding Lee Health oncology services for the region’s growing population.
Before joining Lee Health, Roh most recently served as president of Orlando Health-University of Florida Health Cancer Center. As president, he orchestrated strategic growth initiatives and supervised a 675-person team, including 60 oncologists.
“I, too, have experienced cancer in my personal life – and my life’s purpose is building sustainable service locations that meet patient and family recovery needs in one place long after I am gone,” Roh said. “It’s what I do, my passion. I have treated the patients and been with their families. I take those experiences to every strategic planning meeting.”
Between Wilson and Roh are over five decades of building and delivering successful oncology programs. They are now implementing Lee Health’s strategic plan. With a 100,000-square-foot-plus oncology center in Fort Myers near I-75, Lee Health aims to make oncology services even more accessible through support from communities to the south.
“Receiving treatment close to home allows patients to rest and recuperate in the comfort of their own homes, surrounded and supported by family and friends,” Wilson said.
With a 32-chair infusion center, four individual treatment rooms and 12 exam rooms, the new cancer clinic at Coconut Point will provide not only an infusion center for chemotherapy and other therapies requiring infusions, but it will also have physician’s offices, dietitian services, genetic counseling, counseling by master-of-social-work oncology specialists, physical therapy, a pharmacy and support services for the family. Additionally, the new center will include expanded services for pediatric mental and behavioral health.
“Care that provides every service a cancer patient may need in one place from diagnosis to recovery, guided along the way by a nurse navigator, reduces the patient and family anxiety and, hopefully, the travel time and distance with every need met in one location,” Roh said.
Community Support for Cancer Care
The $10.4 million price tag to renovate the Bonita Health Center’s former surgery center received major donor support. The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation donated $1 million with an additional $1.5 million community challenge grant. Schulze lost his wife to cancer, and his foundation is a major proponent of expanded services.
“Unfortunately, there is a need for more cancer health care in Southwest Florida. I wish it wasn’t like that, but it is,” said Grubbs. “Lee Health is listening to the community and responding to their needs by expanding its services with this new center.”
Fundraising activities have been well-supported by local communities, including major support from Bonita Bay.
“Last year, their Kentucky Derby gala raised over $800,000 for the new center, and this year’s gala in May is expected to do the same,” said Simoneau. “Naming opportunities are available inside the building, and the first is the infusion center that will be named for Bonita Bay.”
Fundraising events occur monthly to support the Coconut Point cancer clinic and other Lee Health oncology services.
“The expansion of services also contributes to Lee Health acquiring the latest in technology for cancer and other diagnostic needs such as PET/CT scan equipment that is the most current in the field of oncology,” Roh said.
The ‘hiring’ sign is out for people looking to grow with the new facility — nurse navigators, pharmacy techs, social workers, genetic counselors, certified nursing assistants, nurses and others with the right combination of experience and character.
“We are looking for special applicants with a patient focus in addition to exceptional skills associated with oncology treatment plans,” said Roh.
The patient journey is the priority, he said.
“Ease of access and navigation through the process of screening, detection, diagnosis, location and assessment may occur in the same day,” Roh added.
Volunteer opportunities exist at the new cancer clinic to greet patients, drive golf cart shuttles to Lee Health Coconut Point and other activities including therapy dogs.
The Richard M. Schulze Foundation Family Cancer Clinic is being welcomed by the community and will have a positive impact on the local economy along with improving care and convenience for local cancer patients.
“Travel from Estero to Fort Myers can be challenging, during traffic especially,” said Wilson. “The doctors will be doing the traveling to meet the patient need. Patients will be receiving care in their own neighborhoods with professionals that they may see at the neighborhood shops.”
Lee Health’s pillars include an exceptional experience and patient-centered health care. Bonita is one step in plans for the future.
“Access, access, access – that’s the oncology status,” said Wilson. “We are continually aligning with communities for ease of access for patients.”
“We’re not just providing physical treatment, but rather treatment of the whole person and those sharing the journey,” Roh added.
“We take the patients by the hand and accompany them on their journey through the system of treatment and support services with a nurse navigator providing needed resources and information along the way to the patient and their family.”
Support services include the full range of those available in the Lee Health system, including licensed clinical social workers specializing in cancer treatment. All services are available to all patients independent of a patient’s ability to pay, so providers, patients and families can concentrate on recovery.
The Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Cancer Clinic is located at the Bonita Health Center, 3501 Health Center Blvd., Bonita Springs. Call the Lee Health Regional Cancer Center at (239)343-9500 for more information, or visit www.leehealth.org.