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Last beam placed at St. Elizabeth Cancer Center topping out is beacon of hope for patients, families


By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

St. Elizabeth Healthcare reached another milestone Tuesday in its effort to make Northern Kentucky one of the healthiest communities in the country.

The last beam for the St. Elizabeth Cancer Center project, filled with thousands of signatures, awaited placement Tuesday. Click to enlarge (photos by Mark Hansel).

Stakeholders, community leaders and former patients joined physicians and staff at a “topping out” ceremony for the $130 million St. Elizabeth Cancer Center.

The ceremony marked the placement of the final beam in the $130 million structure that will expand cancer prevention, genetic screening and treatment options in the region.

The goal is to allow St. Elizabeth’s patients to get all of the treatment and care they need close to home.

In an effort to make the community feel like more of a partner in the project, St. Elizabeth invited anyone touched by cancer to sign the beam.

The beam was placed at the Cancer Care Entrance on the Edgewood Campus in the week leading up to Tuesday’s ceremony. St. Elizabeth’s leaders were optimistic that they would get a fair amount of signatures, but the response far exceeded any expectations they might have had.

In just those few days, more than 5,000 people, some of whom drove for hours to reach the campus, signed the beam.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare President and CEO Garren Colvin said the response was overwhelming.

St. Elizabeth Healthcare President and CEO Garren Colvin talks about the outpouring of emotion and support from the people in the community who signed the final beam for the project.

“We knew we were partnering with the community, we knew we were going to have community support, the funds that we have raised so far really show that,” Colvin said. “But to see this beam, with more than 5,000 signatures of people who came all this way to sign, tells me we’re on the right path, We’re doing something this community wants, and more importantly this community needs.”

Dr. Douglas Flora, executive medical director of oncology services at St. Elizabeth, and a cancer survivor, became emotional Tuesday as he commented on the outpouring of community support.

“By Wednesday, it started to get it’s own legs – I went to put flowers on it Wednesday and members of (Ironworkers Local 44) were just weeping,” Flora said. “There were patriarchs of families with levels and tiers of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I watched hundreds of my own patients posting pictures of themselves signing that beam on my Facebook page.”

Flora sees the beam as a beacon of hope for everyone whose name is on it, including his mother and himself.

He recalled a favorite phrase from his own cancer journey, “when there is no wind, you row.”

“It means that when things are really, really hard, and you are in dark place and you’ve been planted in this place, you need to put your back into it and pull the boat,” Flora said. “That’s what my patients do every day – I saw hundreds of people doing that this week. We lost two people under 40 and their families were there within hours signing this beam and that’s what this means to our community.”

A worker from Turner Construction awaits the arrival of the last beam at Tuesday’s topping out ceremony.

In a project with no shortage of invested partners, perhaps none has played a more significant role than Dave Spaulding, vice president and general manager for Turner Construction.

Turner is the construction manager for the project and Spaulding, also a cancer survivor, wanted to make sure the Cancer Center has everything it needs.

“Our project team, all of the workers on the site had that same feeling throughout the whole job and this project is built with the hearts of all those people,” Spaulding said. “This community, myself, my family, we’ve all had stories of survival, stories of loss. For the board of directors and St. Elizabeth to put this much force and money behind something like this, there was no other way to do it than to try to grab a hold  of it and make it even better than what they imagined.”

Many associated with the project say the $130 million cost would be significantly higher if not for the efforts of Spaulding and the Turner Construction team.

The topping out event for the St. Elizabeth Cancer Center took place Tuesday at the site of the new facility on the St. E Edgewood Campus. The event signified the setting of the final beam for the project. The beam was signed by more than 5,000 people who have been touched by cancer in some way.

When Flora speaks about the project, he says one goal would be to repurpose this building in five or ten years, so that it wouldn’t need the cancer component. Colvin realizes that’s an ambitious statement, but with the progress being made in cancer research, he wouldn’t rule it out.

“That would be an awesome outcome, Colvin said. “As we stand here, you look across and see our heart and vascular institute, which was our first big project. In that project alone, we’ve already had 20 percent fewer related deaths in this community as a result of our initiatives in heart and vascular work.”

The topping out represents more than 50,000 man-hours of work, to this point, on the project. It is expected to take at least another 50,000 hours before the 233,000 square-foot project is completed next summer.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com


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