How our patients help create a healing environment

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Look closely at some of the steel beams that support Dana-Farber’s Yawkey Center for Cancer Care and you’ll see the names of patients spray-painted in bright colors by ironworkers during the building’s construction.

These beams frame the building, but patients and families have lent far more than their names to the facility’s creation.

Their guidance underpins almost every aspect of the Yawkey Center. From the healing garden to the layout of exam rooms to the parking garage, the imprint of our patients and families is felt across the Institute.

Here, Janet Porter, PhD, chief operating officer, recalls in her own words the benefits of working closely with patients and families.

In order to hear the patient voice, you need patients around all the time who have an organized way of offering advice. We have been blessed with this opportunity for the last 12 years. Adult patients are represented by an adult council and pediatric patients and parents by a pediatric council.

So when we want to figure out how to make patient-care improvements, we can go the councils and ask for guidance. It’s amazing how wise and dedicated our patients are.

For example, about six years ago, we began planning our new facility with clinics and infusion space for adult cancer patients. From the very beginning, patients were involved.

Eric Rodriguez, who had been a patient as a teenager and later became an active pediatric council member, was one of three patients on the committee that selected the architect.

Dr. Benz, our president, recalls that he thought we were going to pick a particular architect but the patients wanted another architectural firm, ZGF. And you can tell where this story is going. We listened to the patients and picked ZGF, who designed our beautiful new Yawkey Center with lots of input from our patients and families.

The healing garden in the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care

The healing garden in the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care

Patient and family members also served on work teams that tackled key operational issues for the new building, from pharmacy to scheduling.

For example, the Yawkey Center only has windows on two sides, so one key question was whether the exam or infusion areas should have the best views.

The building was only possible through the $50 million gift from Richard and Susan Smith, active board members and donors to Dana-Farber. Susan thought the windows might be best in the exam rooms, as that’s where they had been in the Dana building. But the patients wanted windows in the infusion area, so that patients and families have a great view during their long chemotherapy sessions. And that’s what we did.

Since we opened the Yawkey Center in January 2011, some of the patients involved in the planning stages have been giving tours. Someone commented that it was great that we had trained patients to tell stories about the design of the building. But actually, they lived the design and tell their own personal stories.

For instance, Maureen Costello, who chaired the Healing Garden Committee and was an advocate for creating this quiet area for reflection and healing, helped decide that the sound system should have birds and waterfalls.

Mary Dana Gershanoff once ended a planning retreat with the sage advice, “Don’t have the building be so patient- and family-centric that you forget to make it staff-centric. We don’t come here for the parking or the cafeteria; we come here for the talented and compassionate staff.”

And when we were trying to figure out how many infusion chairs should be in private rooms or open group spaces, the late Scott Viera reminded us, “Some of us want to be alone when we have infusions. And some of us want to be with people. But there comes a day when the patient who for two years has wanted to be alone thinks, ‘Today I need to be with other people.’ So we want choice.”

We listened to their wisdom, and we are better for it.

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