Better Together: A look inside Salem Health & OHSU Partnership

Since Salem Health and OHSU announced their partnership at the end of 2015, Salem-area patients have been taking advantage of local services that used to require travel to Portland. While the affiliation is still young, behind-the-scenes work between these major regional hospital systems promises to bring many more benefits in the future. But how is the partnership shaping care in our community today?

Lives are saved when Salem Health and OHSU work together

Chad Wood, 64, of Dallas, is proactive about his health — especially with a wife who has worked as an emergency department nurse at Salem Health West Valley for 35 years.

He also has been vigilant about cancer, since his father had prostate cancer. With four grown children and seven grandkids to think of, “watchful waiting” was not enough for Chad.

“I did a lot of research and became interested in the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test,” Chad said.

Not all experts agree on PSA testing’s effectiveness. The blood test screens for prostate cancer by measuring the amount of PSA protein produced in the prostate, but high PSA doesn’t always mean there’s cancer.

The unthinkable appears

In 2008, Chad’s doctors saw gradually elevated PSA levels and spotted some suspicious lumps on his prostate. The combination was enough for them to recommend he undergo precautionary prostate biopsies.

Chad said, “That’s when I learned I had prostate cancer. There was a time I was told to get my affairs in order due to the aggressive nature of my cancer.”

Doctors discovered Chad’s case of cancer looked aggressive under the microscope. It required immediate attention.

Care from across the region
Chad began his treatment in Salem. Tests showed his PSA level was doubling about every eight weeks. Doctors recommended he undergo da Vinci robot-assisted surgery at Salem Health to remove his prostate. Then after nearly three-dozen radiation treatments, Chad’s PSA finally began to drop.

It remained low for about three years, but then started to climb once again. Responding to the change, his oncologist referred him to OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute to take part in a clinical trial.

But before he could start, Chad learned his challenges weren’t over yet. During his treatment for prostate cancer, OHSU doctors discovered a large mass growing in Chad’s abdomen. Exploratory surgery showed it was lymphoma.

It took six more intense months of chemotherapy before doctors were confident that Chad’s non-Hodgkin lymphoma had no uptakes and was dropping in size.

During that time, Chad received weekly maintenance and infusion care locally at Salem Health West Valley in Dallas, saving himself about 20 trips to Portland.

In early 2016, Chad finally started the yearlong OHSU clinical trial. The experimental treatment uses a combination of drugs to block testosterone, which traditionally fuels the growth of prostate cancer.

A feeling of community
With strong encouragement from his wife, Chad joined a prostate cancer support group, which meets monthly at the Salem Health Cancer Institute.

Chad said, “That’s when I learned from others that there is life after cancer. Looking back, I could not find anything better in the world for my care than what I received at Salem Health and OHSU.”

“We think we’re going to see more and more stories like Chad’s in the coming years,” said Dr. Nancy Boutin, medical director with Salem Health Cancer Institute. “The affiliation between Salem Health and OHSU is giving patients easier access to whatever level of care they need, no matter what the diagnosis. Our community is already seeing the benefit of the closer relationship between the hospitals.”

As for Chad, he now looks at his cancer as something that can be managed as a lifelong condition rather than a one-time event.

“It’s incredible to think I had a couple of cancers that were considered incurable,” he said. “However, a lot of them now are becoming like being diabetic. There are so many treatment options now, especially with more clinics available through Salem Health and OHSU.”