Less than a year after opening its doors, Kennewick General Hospital's cancer treatment program is looking to expand.
The oncology program now is offering consultations and medical services in Prosser in partnership with PMH Medical Center, formerly known as Prosser Memorial Hospital.
Ben Murray, practice manager at PMH, said the idea is to save some of the sickest patients from having to drive to the Tri-Cities or Yakima for most of their care and treatment, except for chemotherapy.
"Based on the oftentimes severity of the illness, we thought this would be a great partnership to hopefully aid the recovery of our fellow Prosserites," Murray told the Herald.
The partnership has PMH offering up space in an office across the street from the hospital where KGH oncologists Drs. Jose Ness and Stephen Iacoboni each can visit with patients for half a day once a month.
The two physicians have been on staff at KGH just under a year, since the Kennewick hospital opened its oncology practice last August.
Iacoboni told the Herald the number of patients has exceeded expectations since the practice opened.
Ness attributed the volume of cancer patients to a simple lack of access to doctors specializing in cancer before KGH added its services to those offered by the Tri-Cities Cancer Center.
Both doctors have talked to patients who previously would have gone to Spokane or Seattle just because there weren't enough oncologists to go around.
Iacoboni said Tri-City hospitals provide care to a population area of about 300,000 people in the Mid-Columbia, and a population that size should have eight or nine full-time oncologists.
But the Tri-City area has just five full-time oncologists and one part-time, Iacoboni said.
He noted that might have caused some people to delay getting screened or diagnosed if they thought getting an appointment would be a lengthy or complicated process.
"As people get out there and they know they can go to KGH, they will be less reluctant to check out that lump in their breast or cough or blood in their urine," Iacoboni said. "It is our hope people will feel comfortable staying in town. We would like to work toward a day when they can get whatever they need in the Tri-Cities."
Murray said PMH is working to get the word out to Prosser doctors that they now can send their patients who are diagnosed with cancer to PMH for lab testing, exams, X-rays, CAT scans, ultrasounds, blood transfusions and some injections done as a support for chemotherapy.
But they will have to continue to travel for chemotherapy because that requires specific skills and training that PMH doesn't provide, Murray said.
Ness said the Tri-Cities offers just about every kind of medical care that most people need, and that people are becoming more aware they can get their care locally instead of traveling.
"There is really no reason why anyone should seek care outside of the Tri-Cities unless it's a very complex, labor-intensive procedure, like a bone marrow transplant," Ness said. "I feel needed here. One of the reasons I wanted to move here was because I wanted to be in a community where I was needed."
More information-- KGH's offices in Prosser are at 820 Memorial St., Suite 3. -- Patients can schedule an appointment by calling 786-5599, or by referral from their family doctor or PMH.