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Children's will house center for breast care
News Medical Reporter
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JOHN HICKEY/Buffalo News
Dr. Kenneth H. Eckhert Jr. will head Kaleida's breast care unit.
Kaleida Health will open a breast care center next year in Children's Hospital that, although a duplication of services elsewhere, aims to set itself apart by significantly shortening the time women wait between diagnosis and treatment.

The center may instantly make Kaleida Health a player regionally in breast cancer diagnosis and surgery, a field now dominated by the Catholic Health System and Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

And, officials said, it should help Children's Hospital, which needs new services to fill empty space as the area's population of young patients declines and more medical care is provided outside of hospitals.

The venture also adds one more twist to the continual debate in the Buffalo Niagara region over whether hospitals should be cooperating instead of competing in some services at a time of tight funding.

The Catholic Health System earlier this year opened a heart surgery program, although similar programs are found at Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center. Meanwhile, Kaleida Health's new breast care center will be headed by Dr. Kenneth H. Eckhert Jr., an instrumental part of the Breast Care Center at the Catholic Health System.

"This is affording me an opportunity to take my life's work to an unprecedented level," Eckhert said Monday.

Over the years, breast care centers have mushroomed at hospitals and other facilities with the aim of offering comprehensive care in one location - everything from mammography and surgery to counseling and education.

However, Eckhert said his experience has taught him that women are most interested in a quick time frame between the moment they suspect or learn of a tumor to the moment they receive treatment or hear that a lump is benign.

"That can take three to five weeks. The anxiety level is unbelievable," he said.

Much of the delay is from waiting for the results of tissue biopsies and scheduling an appointment with a surgeon to talk about the results and options for treatment, such as a lumpectomy or mastectomy.

By examining a tissue sample removed during a biopsy under a microscope, the pathologist can detect subtle differences in cancer cells that aid physicians in accurately confirming the diagnosis of cancer. It's a process that usually takes a few days.

"The pathologist is key," Eck-
hert said. "The person needs to be on staff and has to have expertise in breast cancer. You need to be able to get results right away and avoid repeating biopsies because you suspect the diagnosis is wrong."

He said he approached the Catholic Health System about taking its breast care center at Sisters Hospital "to another level" by reorganizing the service so that it was able to offer patients surgery within 48 hours. When the hospital system could not accommodate him, he said, he turned to Kaleida Health.

"It's very difficult for me to leave Sisters Hospital, and it's a bit of a blow to the Catholic Health System. They're focused on cardiac care right now, and Kaleida saw this as a way to keep Children's Hospital viable," he said.

"It's more important to me that I accomplish this than think about what hospital system it is in," he added. "It's a wonderful way to finish a career."

Eckhert also said he grew up around the corner from Children's, viewed the facility as a community asset, liked the idea of playing a role to help it and looked forward to working in a hospital where he could teach specialists-in-training.

It's not a simple commitment for Kaleida Health, which is attempting a turnaround after suffering huge financial losses since forming in 1998 and has a host of construction projects and medical services that need attention.

Kaleida consists of five hospitals: Buffalo General, Millard Fillmore Gates Circle, Millard Fillmore Suburban in Amherst, Children's and DeGraff Memorial in North Tonawanda.

The new center, which is expected to cost $2 million, will require the hospital system to remodel the fifth floor of Children's Hospital and dedicate operating rooms, nurses, radiology services and a pathologist to the new service.

"The breast center is the start of what I would like to see here in women's health. It's an area of health care that has been underserved," said Cynthia Ambres, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Kaleida Health.

William McGuire, president and chief executive officer of Kaleida Health, said the project illustrated his administration's commitment to Children's Hospital. Officials anticipate the center will open around April 2003.

Eckhert, first director of the Catholic Health System's breast center when it opened in 1988, is 62 and said he hopes to continue working until he is 70.

He currently is partner with two other physicians - Drs. Ronald L. Bauer and Takuma Nemoto - in Breast Health Associates. They operate the private practice out of offices in Williamsville and East Aurora and perform their surgery in the Catholic Health System hospitals.

Eckhert said the physicians last year handled 631 new breast cancer cases, or about 60 percent of the new cases in the region.

Nemoto, 68, is expected to join Eckhert, but officials stressed that new surgeons will have to be recruited, considering the age of the two men. Bauer directs the Catholic Health System breast care center and is expected to stay there, according to the hospital network.

"It's a disappointment anytime you lose someone. But Dr. Bauer is a young physician with a strong practice," said Dennis McCarthy, spokesman for the Catholic Health System.

"Kaleida seems to be duplicating an existing service," he said. "But I'm sure they would turn around and point to our heart program."

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, except for nonmelanoma skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

It is estimated that in 2002 about 203,500 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed among women in the U.S. An estimated 1,500 cases will be diagnosed in men.

Nationwide, facilities devoted to breast cancer care are striving to make their services more coordinated and seamless, said Eva Sciandra, director of breast health at the society's Eastern Division.

"Most biopsies turn out to be negative, fortunately," she said. "But that doesn't make the waiting time any less stressful."



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