Hartford HealthCare opens oncology center in Fairfield

FAIRFIELD — Quickly forming deep connections with patients and their families is what drew Dr. Sandhya Dhanjal to oncology and hematology.

“The kind of relationship you have is very intense,” she said. “I think you go through kind of a war with the patients.”

Dhanjal, an oncologist and hematologist at the Oncology and Infusion Center in Fairfield, said working with a patient and taking a multidisciplinary approach to their illness makes the work interesting and exciting.

“I feel like a solider at war,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like we’re winning and sometimes I feel like a wounded warrior, where I go home and I’m like, ‘I lost the battle.’ It’s a deep feeling and connection with people and their struggle.”

Hartford HealthCare recently opened an oncology and infusion center at 425 Post Road in Fairfield that aligns with that mission.

HHC purchased Medical Specialists of Fairfield, the private practice previously there, last January. It renovated the floor above and expanded the practice. The result is an 8,000-square-foot center that opened in mid-December. It features six medical exam rooms and 12 private infusion bays.

Dr. Peter Yu, Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute’s physician-in-chief, said the expansion allowed the facility to have more exam and treatment rooms, as well as space for staff and a better experience for the patients. He said the center offers a variety of treatments including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, blood transfusions, hydration, therapeutic phlebotomy and injections.

Yu said HHC entered Fairfield County about two years ago. It has been looking to improve and upgrade its cancer services to the area, including recently adding three medical oncologists at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

“We anticipated continuing to expand in Fairfield County,” he said. “We don’t want patients driving long distances to come to the hospital for everything. We want to create these outpatient or ambulatory centers up and down Fairfield County.”

Essentially, Yu said, the service will be coordinated through the centralized health care system, but the delivery will be local. This, he said, will keep the quality of care high while also convenient and accessible.

Over the last 20 years, Yu said, the treatment for cancer has advanced while the number of people dying from it has dropped approximately 30 percent. He said the decrease in mortality is good, but it does mean treatments have become more complicated.

“We needed to expand and upgrade the facilities in order to be able to deliver these advances to patients,” he said.

Yu said HHC has upgraded the pharmacy in St. Vincent’s Hospital, which allows patients to get the advanced therapeutics. He said the network has also upgraded their information technology system, providing more efficient care.

“But it also provides what’s called clinical decision support,” he said. “This is the software intelligence that helps us to make sure the right treatments are being given to the right patients. With so many different treatments to chose from, it’s important to have the support of software that ensures the right medications have been prepared and given to the patients.”

Dhanjal, who lived in New York City where there were many competing health systems, said Fairfield County has been different because health services are primarily dominated by the Yale New Haven Health System. She said Hartford HealthCare coming into the area provides a healthy level of competition that any medical field needs for quality control and patient choice.

“The money they put into the facility in Fairfield is very important, because now we have a high-quality, standard cancer center with an independent base for chemotherapy and infusion,” she said, adding this center helps with outreach in Fairfield County.

Dhanjal said the care patients can get is top-notch in a very competitive environment — the crossroads between the Yale New Haven Health System and large health groups in New York and Boston. She said she and her colleagues have name recognition in the area, and Hartford HealthCare’s investment in the formerly private practice allows them to deliver care under the organization’s brand.

“Our old facility was very dated, and I think Hartford HealthCare has brought this facility to a standard of excellence,” she said. “We’re going to have research opportunities. We’re going to have different specialties — each of us kind of specializing a little more in different cancer types. We’re working toward a disease-specified model where each doctor takes on one or two cancer types and specializes in that.”

With the vastness of oncology as a field, Dhanjal said, it can be important for a doctor to be able to dig down into specific areas so they can provide the most cutting edge treatment to a patient.

Dhanjal said physicians are always visible and available to their patients. She also said joining HHC improved access for people who are uninsured or under-insured.

“I think this is a very high-class cancer center with a neighborhood feel,” she said. “I grew up myself in Fairfield. If I were to have cancer I would go nowhere but here. It’s close to home. We’ve always had a family-like feel.”