When Candace Johnson became the president and CEO of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2015, her counterpart at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Joseph Ruffolo, was among the first people to call.
"When I first became the CEO at Roswell, Joe reached out to us and said, 'Let's do something,'" Johnson recalled. "We were seeing patients from the Falls (at Roswell) but travel to Buffalo wasn't always easy."
Thanks to a new partnership announced Friday, that will soon change.
Representatives from Roswell and Memorial announced a new cancer care collaboration that will bring a comprehensive thoracic clinical program to the Falls.
"Hopefully, we can bring absolutely outstanding care to the people of Niagara County," Johnson said at a mid-morning news conference on Friday. "We haven't always looked outside our walls (to provide care). So this is a very important step for us."
It's a step that was warmly welcomed by Lewiston resident Kevin Schultz.
Schultz, who calls himself "just a regular guy," is a five-year cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in December 2013 and immediately sought treatment at Roswell Park.
"I'm doing very well," Schultz said. "The care I received from Roswell has helped me beat the odds."
Schultz, whose mother worked at Memorial and whose daughter now works at Roswell after first working for Memorial, called the establishment of a comprehensive thoracic clinical program in the Falls great news.
"I have nothing but love for the care at Roswell Park," Schultz said. "And now we'll have that in Niagara County."
Representatives from Memorial and Roswell said the establishment of the jointly operated Thoracic Center at Memorial will provide Niagara County residents with access to a wide range of specialized services, from lung cancer screening and early detection through to state-of-the-art cancer treatment and survivorship support.
Officials said it was the first time such specialized and comprehensive cancer services have been available in the Niagara region.
"This is a very big event for this hospital," James Roscetti, the chairman of Memorial's board of directors, said. "This fills the biggest need of our constituency."
Ruffolo called the announcement "an historic day."
"We will integrate cancer services across the Memorial campus," he said. "(Roswell) is strongly committed to their mission of finding cures for cancer. Roswell Park's clinical outcomes have had a profound impact. Collaboration is the engine that keeps Memorial ticking."
The new program will focus on the prevention, detection and outpatient treatment of lung cancer and other malignant conditions of the chest and chest wall. It will be directed by Dr. Sai Yendamuri, FACS, chair and attending surgeon for Roswell Park’s Department of Thoracic Surgery.
Ruffolo noted that the per capita incidence of lung and bronchial cancer in Niagara County is much higher than elsewhere in the state or nation. Cases of lung cancer in Niagara County have risen about 36 percent over the last 40 years and the county’s rate of incidence is one of the highest across the state.
The New York State Health Department lists lung cancer as the leading cause of death for women in Niagara County and the second leading cause of death for men.
“Given the environmental factors inherent in Niagara County – its large number of chemical plants and its history of former smokestack industries, not to mention the presence of Love Canal and six other EPA Superfund sites – the presence of cancer casts a pall over those who live and work here,” Ruffolo said. “Partnering with Roswell to launch lung cancer screening in conjunction with this new thoracic program undoubtedly will save lives.”