ELLSWORTH, Maine — Several dozen people gathered at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital on Wednesday morning for a ceremonial groundbreaking for an expanded cancer treatment center catering especially to residents of Down East Maine.
Staff at Maine Coast Memorial have operated the Mary Dow Center for Cancer Care since 1997, serving thousands of patients battling not only cancer but also rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and other disorders. Last year’s construction of a new emergency department at the hospital opened up additional space for the cancer center.
On Wednesday, the only remnants of the old ER visible inside the cancer center’s future home were a surgical lamp that would have been located above an operating table and a wash station.
Once complete, the new center will feature double the number of infusion chairs where patients receive intravenous treatment, additional exam rooms, private and semiprivate patient rooms, a pharmacy, extra office space as well as a healing garden. A 3,000-square-foot addition to the hospital’s north face is also included in the $2.1 million project.
“We are very excited about this project,” Rebecca Sargent, chair of the hospital’s board of trustees, told the group gathered inside the gutted former ER on Wednesday. “We are excited about bringing the standard of the facility up to the standard of care.”
Dr. Philips Brooks, an oncologist and co-founding physician of the center, said a cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event. The ability to receive often difficult treatments close to home is important to both patients and their families as they deal with the diagnosis.
“I think we have all of the ingredients to give the residents of Hancock County the cancer care they deserve,” Brooks said.
The cancer center’s namesake, Mary Dow, was a registered nurse for decades at Maine Coast Memorial who herself had to travel to Bangor for treatment for the breast cancer that ultimately claimed her life.
Jeff Dow, Mary Dow’s son, recalled those difficult drives back from Bangor with his mother after she received the often debilitating treatments. Now a member of the hospital’s board, Dow said every patient of the cancer center he talks to raves about the care they receive.
“That, to me, is what she would be most proud of: that the quality of care … is up to her standards,” Dow said.
The Mary Dow Center was created to serve Hancock and Washington counties, which have cancer incidence rates that are higher than the state average. The center is a partnership with Eastern Maine Medical Center’s CancerCare of Maine program.
Jayne Wixon, the Mary Dow Center’s clinical nurse manager, pointed out Wednesday that the facility has received more than 50,000 visits — including more than 10,000 oncology visits — since it opened in 1997.
Construction of the expanded center is expected to be complete sometime next year. The hospital has received $140,000 in donations for the project so far, with the goal of raising $525,000 in private funding for the $2.1 million project.