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Northwell investing $50M in cancer center, targeting diverse communities

Northwell Health plans to open a comprehensive cancer

Northwell Health plans to open a comprehensive cancer center near Huntington Hospital. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Northwell Health said it plans to invest $50 million to expand cancer care in Huntington, including opening a comprehensive cancer center near Huntington Hospital.

The new center would mirror the Imbert Cancer Center that Northwell opened near Southside Hospital in Bay Shore in late 2016.

"For too long, the cancer care model has included asking patients to drive 45 minutes to get chemotherapy, radiation and more," said Dr. Richard Barakat, physician-in-chief and director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute and senior vice president of the health system's cancer service line. "That's changing, and our Imbert center has been so successful. We plan to bring that level of service to Huntington."

Along with chemotherapy and radiation services, the Huntington location would include genetics, social workers, survivorship programs and palliative care, Barakat said.

Barakat said Northwell, the largest health system and private employer in the state, plans to have a site selected for the facility within the next two months. The center would take a little more than a year to build, Barakat added.

He said the health system would, in all likelihood, raise money for the facility through a naming rights deal, similar to the one Northwell struck with Bay Shore residents Rick and Susan Imbert, who made an undisclosed donation toward the $46.5 million construction of the Bay Shore facility.

The Huntington center will be headed by Dr. David Rivadeneira, who has spent the past seven years in charge of surgical services and colorectal surgery at Huntington Hospital.

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Prior, Rivadeneira was chief of colon and rectal surgery at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. He said the Huntington center will work closely with nearby Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to bring "combined research, which will include enrolling patients in trials and collaboration in general."

Manhattan-based health systems Memorial Sloan Kettering and NYU Langone also operate nearby cancer centers. MSK has a facility on Commack Road in Commack, while NYU's Perlmutter Cancer Center has a location in Huntington.

The Huntington location, like Imbert in Bay Shore, will be located near ethnically diverse neighborhoods, and Barakat said Northwell has started to place a larger focus on outreach in those communities because often "by the time we see patients, they're further along in their disease progression."

Northwell has said it plans to do more health screenings in minority communities. That includes testing for COVID-19 at churches.

Rivadeneira said he and other colorectal surgeons at Northwell are speaking at area libraries, community centers and houses of worship about the importance of screening for colon cancer. 

"It's been clear for too long that your survivorship in general is driven by your ZIP code," he said. "This happens in cancer care as well."

Rivadeneira's parents are from Ecuador, and for that reason, he said, "I'm very sensitive to this.

"There are a lot of Latino and African American communities in this area, and we must be better at outreach," he said.

The cancer center and a greater focus on health care in minority communities would be welcomed, said Willie Perez, the treasurer at Light of Salvation Church in Huntington Station.

"The first thing I would say to anyone is thank you, it's much needed," Perez said. "We need this very much. Between not having the right paperwork, insurance and money, getting the right health care is a big mountain to climb."

Earlier this year, Northwell took over Queens-based cancer practice Queens Medical Associates, which has seven locations in the borough.

Northwell said Queens Medical treats about 10,000 patients annually with various cancers and blood disorders.

The practice and infusion center reflects the community’s diversity by having staffers that speak more than 30 languages and dialects, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Hindi and Bengali. 

Barakat said diversity also helps Northwell bring more clinical trials to underserved ethnic groups. He said genetic differences are key in cancer care, and more cancer-based clinical trials need to be made available to minority communities in the United States.

"Specific care that works for someone from one background may not work for someone from another background," Barakat said. "That's why it's so important to have diversity in your patient population."

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