Published on March 01, 2022

Commission on Cancer and QOPI logos

Avera Cancer Network Expands Quality Services in Sioux Falls and Beyond

It can be more of a struggle when patients must drive for hours to reach their care team.

Avera Cancer Institute wants to meet patient needs, wherever home might be across our service area of more than 72,000 square miles. It’s one of the health system’s overarching goals. New technology, expert staff and new clinical approaches are being added in many smaller communities with more advances to come in 2022.

But Avera’s integrated network reaches beyond brick and mortar buildings with investment in services that connect patients to answers 24/7 since issues can arise anytime and research that continues to advance cancer treatments.

“We continue to add solutions every day,” said John Lee, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Cancer Research with Avera Cancer Institute. “We have new clinical trials, new physicians and new capabilities, and we’ll continue to grow this network, carefully, until we can achieve our goal of providing the best possible cancer care to every patient who needs it, as close to home as possible.”

Six Locations, Same Quality Care

Avera’s commitment to high-quality cancer care resulted in network accreditations from both the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer (COC) and American Society of Clinical Oncology Quality Oncology Practice Initiative (QOPI). These accreditations not only verify quality and clinical excellence, but also an ongoing dedication to performance improvement, ultimately benefiting patient care.

Avera Cancer Institute is one institute with six regional centers, spanning across the Avera footprint, in Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Mitchell, Pierre, and Yankton, S.D., and Marshall, Minn., plus outreach care in 31 other communities.

"It’s a pyramid we’re building, and the pieces include physicians and experts, technology and treatment services but also clinical trials,” Lee said. “Each piece helps the next one as we integrate our work."

Early Successes of Integrated Care

The process already has positive results, and examples include:

  • Avera’s Project Footprint is expanding clinical trials to more locations outside of Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, including Pierre trials that began in August 2020, with plans to expand trials in locations in South Dakota, including Yankton and Mitchell, as well as Marshall, Minn.
  • System-wide quality meetings ensure approaches that work are implemented and evaluated among all cancer professionals.
  • Collaboration with technology leaders such as Elekta, for radiation oncology equipment and Sema4, a patient-centered health intelligence company helping Avera use patient data and genomic testing to precisely target cancer treatments.

These relationships are vital to both patients and physicians. Building these platforms allow us to try new treatment approaches.

“Clinical trials give our patients new access to treatments which comes back to our goal of providing closer-to-home care that can save lives.”

One example is the use of the body’s “natural killer cells” to work against tumors. One clinical trial found a dramatic increase in successful treatment using this method: where traditional therapies had positive responses only 5% of the time, a new clinical trial approach was showing an 80% improvement in that area.

A new online module for helping cancer patients find clinical trials is live at

More than Research and Trials

The Avera Cancer Institute Navigation Center is a great example of how an integrated cancer care network can support patients and families. All cancer patients have questions at diagnosis – and beyond.

“Our navigation center RNs and social workers are available 24/7. They answer questions from patients who have symptoms or worries,” Lee said. “They also answer questions from physicians and loved ones, so that no one is ‘in the dark’ on a case, a condition or a situation.”

Navigators can take calls and guide a patient, sometimes saving them a trip to an emergency room.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.