Dumpy, but affordable units leave council in quandary | AspenTimes.com

Dumpy, but affordable units leave council in quandary

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Sometimes, Karen Silverman had to unexpectedly pull off the highway when she was driving between Aspen and the Shaw Regional Cancer Center in Edwards, where she was getting radiation therapy.

“I was so tired,” said Silverman, 55, of Aspen, who in 2001 underwent radiation therapy in Edwards to treat breast cancer. “Toward the end of the radiation, you start feeling very tired.”

For five weeks, Silverman underwent radiation therapy five days a week at the Edwards center.

Because she had no one to drive her there, and the center doesn’t have any rooms where she could stay, she ended up renting a place in Edwards.

“At the cancer center they recommended this hotel, but it was still too expensive,” she said.

So Silverman borrowed $1,000 from her parents to pay for an apartment.

“It would have been nice to have a place to stay while you are doing the therapy,” she said. “Like they have in Grand Junction. A place you can relax.

“The Shaw Regional Cancer Center is excellent, and if they could come up with housing it would make it perfect.”

New housing plans for patients are in the works. The Shaw Outreach Team has plans to provide housing for patients who live outside Eagle County and need weeks of daily treatment. The outreach team, formed by six staff members of the Vail Valley Medical Center and 12 volunteers, is working on plans to build a 12,000-square-foot caring house where patients can stay during their treatments.

“The need is so great,” said Cheryl Jensen, chair of the marketing committee for the Shaw Outreach Team. “We realized this need existed when we found out about a man from Rifle who was sleeping in his car during radiation therapy. Our job at the outreach team is to raise awareness of the need, not just in our county but in the neighboring counties.”

Since it opened in July 2001, about 60 percent of the patients who underwent radiation therapy came from outside Eagle County. The cancer center offers personalized treatment with full radiation, medical and surgical oncology diagnosis and therapy services, including a holistic wellness program. Before the center opened, cancer patients had to drive to Denver for treatment.

The Shaw Regional Cancer Center serves seven counties: Eagle, Summit, Lake, Grand, Garfield, Routt and Pitkin. About 20 percent of patients request housing during chemotherapy.

“Just in the past months Vail Resorts has had three patients average a month living in their employee housing,” Jensen said.

During the off-seasons, Vail Resorts allows patients of the cancer center who are undergoing treatment to stay in its employee housing. But some months there isn’t any vacancy, and patients are left to either stay in a hotel, drive every day or rent an apartment. Or sleep in their cars.

Silverman said she felt lucky her treatment was in October, during the off-season. Jensen said the drive depending on the time of year can add to patients’ struggles.

“Most of these patients don’t feel well,” Jensen said. “They’re going through an emotional time. Some patients are receiving treatment in the winter and come from Breckenridge, and some are driving by themselves.”

The plan calls for a caring house, preferably next to the cancer center. The first phase would be 12,000 square feet and would cater to 10 patients; an 8,000-square-foot expansion would be built under a second phase.

The house could cost more than $1 million, Jensen said. So far, the outreach team has raised about $140,000, she added.

“We are at the beginning stages,” she said. “At first we were going to buy a condo across the street. A caring house is a much better environment for the patients because they get support from other patients.

“We also realize there is a huge need, but the need is getting greater and greater,” Jensen added. “This is the only cancer center between Denver and Grand Junction, and we’re seeing some growth.”

Jensen said she hopes the project will get approval earlier next year. That will be followed by a fund-raising campaign.

Patients staying at the caring house will be charged a minimal fee. The house would also be supported by continuous fund raising, Jensen said.

“Probably we’ll start construction in 2005, maybe sooner,” Jensen said.

Suzanne Sloane, senior director of development for the Vail Valley Medical Center, said a caring house would serve a number of patients who come from quite a distance and sometimes can’t afford a hotel.

“Especially as the center keeps growing we’ll probably serve more counties,” Sloane said. “The Shaw Outreach Team is a group of committed volunteers.”

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