By LENORE RUTHERFORD
A Cancer Center at Adventist Health's soon-to-open Sonora Regional Medical Center will be a first for Tuolumne County.
For the first time, cancer patients will have access to a full-time oncology department, eliminating the need to go to the Central Valley or beyond for most acute cancer treatments.
In addition to the Cancer Center, the $47 million regional medical center includes an emergency room, a surgery center and an intensive care unit. A medical office building housing private practices is also part of the Greenley Road complex.
The Medical Center and oncology department will open in January.
The community donated more than $2.2 million for the cancer center and a cardiac center, said Gail Witzlsteiner, hospital spokeswoman.
Dr. Tom Drakes was hired this summer by Adventist Health to direct the new oncology department.
Drakes' wife, Marie, is the office manager and registered nurse, and two clerical employees complete the staff.
Drakes will work with patients' primary-care physicians, radiologists, surgeons and others to provide overall medical care for cancer patients.
Once a patient is diagnosed with cancer, Drakes will take responsibility for disease management.
"I will be the one admitting patients to the hospital and taking care of them," he said, "especially after hours and on weekends.
"I will, in effect, quarterback the whole process, including referring patients out of town when they need specialized care such as bone marrow transplants.
"I don't consider our cancer program to be in competition with academic medical centers," he continued. "There will always be patients referred on to them for specialized care.
"I am on the faculty of the University of California at Davis, I get along well with the staff at Stanford Medical Center, and I went to school at the University of California, San Francisco. We have a strong network of care."