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Published on December 08, 2020

song of creation sculpture outside prairie center

Ten Years of World Class Care at the Prairie Center

Ten years ago, the Prairie Center opened as a beacon of hope and healing – a building that would bring together cancer care as never before.

The iconic building on the main campus of Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls continues as it was planned to be, says Kris Gaster, Assistant Vice President for Outpatient Cancer Clinics with the Avera Cancer Institute. Gaster was a major stakeholder in the planning, design and building of the Prairie Center – home to Avera Cancer Institute. The Prairie Center also houses the Avera Surgery Center and Avera McKennan Inpatient Rehabilitation.

“Our theme when we built the Prairie Center was ‘Building Hope.’ I feel we have brought hope – not only through the building infrastructure, but also through adding key personnel with the specialty training to deliver world-class care in multiple-disciplinary cancer teams and through incorporating innovation to enhance treatment options with higher cure rates. The Prairie Center still represents the physical site for hope and healing that we set out to create 12 years ago when we first started to plan this world-class building and cancer program,” Gaster said.

Patients asked Avera to put all cancer services under one room and that was accomplished. “Avera has been responsive to this request and has been building hope as a result of this building and key investments in cancer,” Gaster said.

Advanced Cancer Care

Some additions and highlights in Avera cancer care in the past decade include:

  • Gamma Knife, state-of-the-art technology that offers pinpoint radiation therapy accuracy and continues to be the gold standard for the best non-invasive treatment of brain tumors and disorders.
  • Major expansion in clinical trials including translational research, investigator initiated early phase trials and industry and National Cancer Institute (NCI) clinical trials. Recently this includes an emphasis on novel cellular/immunotherapy, which builds on the body’s natural immune response to recognize and remove cancer cells such as T-cell and natural killer cells.
  • Addition of CAR-T to the Cellular Therapy and Transplant program. For certain cases of lymphoma, CAR-T takes a patient’s own immune cells and genetically reprograms them to kill cancer.
  • Expansion of Avera’s robotic surgery capabilities to include a second da Vinci® robotic surgical system surgery expansion.
  • Dedicated disease-specific physicians such as a breast oncologist, breast surgeons, gynecologic oncologists, hematologists and specialty pathologists.
  • Disease-specific tumor conferences and navigators for lung, breast, gastrointestinal, gynecologic, genitourinary, head and neck, hepatobiliary and cancer genomics.
  • Electron-based intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) which began as an international clinical trial and is now standard care for women with early-stage breast cancer.
  • Cancer Navigation Center, a 24/7 number that cancer patients and their families can call anywhere in the Avera footprint to receive assistance, expert advice, connection to resources and more.
  • Genomic medicine, personalized treatment that identifies genetic mutations in the tumor so that treatments can be designed specifically to treat each cancer with a personalized care plan.
  • Oncoplasty, breast reconstructive surgery that achieves a better cosmetic result with less visible scarring by combining removal of the lump with plastic surgery techniques.
  • Expansion of integrative medicine services to be more than a supportive service for cancer patients, but for anyone as an Avera Medical Group clinic.

Designed By Patients for Patients

The building was designed by patients, for patients – informed by focus groups comprised of current and former cancer patients and their family members. Another priority was to make the building a “green building,” a building that does no harm to the environment or those who enter into it. The Prairie Center has been awarded two Green Globes.

Over the past 10 years, generous donors have supported the Prairie Center and cancer technology to the tune of $28.5 million raised by the Avera Foundation – including generous funding from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

One focus group member was Janice O’Connor, a breast cancer survivor who now volunteers on the second floor of the Prairie Center. “We really wanted to make it feel welcoming – with a sense of openness and light,” she said.

That included interior as well as exterior features, such as curved windows instead of sharp corners. “That way there’s not a harshness to it,” O’Connor said.

What really makes the building a special place are the people inside. “People care so much. I always hear staff saying things like, ‘I will keep you in my prayers,’” O’Connor added.

Mary Ann Zinnell, who overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma after a 2007 diagnosis, also served on focus groups. Now, she works in the Prairie Center and enjoys seeing ideas that have come to fruition in the day-to-day operations of the Prairie Center. “There’s just something special when you walk in. There’s a sense of peace, caring and healing. That’s a big part of what we envisioned and I hear it from a lot of people.”

Gaster said the Prairie Center’s distinctive “Prairie Wind” theme has been carried out in other new buildings that Avera has developed. Features of the Prairie Center were mirrored in other Avera cancer centers in Aberdeen and Pierre, S.D., and Marshall, Minn.

“It is incredibly rewarding to work at the Prairie Center and see the many lives that we impact here,” said Luis Rojas, MD, Avera Medical Group gynecologic oncologist and clinical vice president of Avera’s Oncology Service Line. “A beautiful building, expert teams, caring staff and supportive programs all come together to form a world-class cancer program – right here in Sioux Falls.”

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