Huntsman Cancer Institute's latest expansion is evidence of hope that a cure will be found

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 26 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

ICU room in the new wing of the Huntsman Cancer Institute Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It's already called the Ritz-Carlton of hospitals, and the newest expansion will nearly double the Huntsman Cancer Institute's capacity for high-end cancer care.

And if it is up to founder Jon Huntsman Sr., it will keep growing "until we've found cures for cancer."

"There should always be a crane building new buildings until this horrible disease has been eradicated," he said Wednesday.

Huntsman, 74, already has pumped more than $300 million into the facility and other efforts to study cancer, which kills more than 550,000 Americans each year.

The latest addition incorporates 156,000 square feet of new construction, including a wellness and survivorship center to focus on the emotional needs of cancer survivors; a learning center, containing materials in both English and Spanish; as well as outpatient clinics to continue growing the patient treatment base, which currently hovers around 60,000 outpatient visits a year.

It also boosts the number of patient rooms by 50 and adds a 25-bed section dedicated to blood and bone marrow transplant, which was formerly housed at the neighboring University Hospital. There are more examination rooms and additional operating spaces, as well as new imaging facilities and an expanded pharmacy.

And all of it is put together with the finest of window dressing, no detail left untended.

"(It) shows the world that the people of Utah really do care about finding a cures for cancer," Huntsman said.

"One of the ingredients for healing to an individual who has cancer is the surrounding facilities and the environment in which they are placed," he said. "If one's emotional feeling is such that they have hope that they can overcome this disease … all of a sudden, they say, 'I've got hope. I'm going to make it. This is the most beautiful place in the world.' And that's all part of the therapy of getting better."

Huntsman said hope comes from quality, and the quality exhibited at the Huntsman Cancer Institute is not only in the professionals who deliver patient care, it's in the meals that can be ordered at any time of the day, it's in the fine furnishings that fill the rooms and hallways, and in the artwork on the walls. Hope is also found in the spectacular valley views and the floor-to-ceiling windows.

"We could really expand two or three or four times more than we are today, just to take care of our patient load," Huntsman said.

The four-time cancer survivor said he would love to be able to help everyone in need of the specialized, multiple-approach cancer care offered in Utah.

And it really is top notch, according to Utah County resident Carolyn Owens, who was told by other doctors she had an incurable form of cancer. Three years and two stem cell transplants later, Owens said she feels "as good as I've felt in years."

"I just believe I wouldn't be here today without this institute," she said.

Huntsman said that despite offers of funding matches elsewhere, he built the hospital in Salt Lake City because of the proximity it would have to the extensive genealogical libraries kept by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With the hospital's primary emphasis on genetic cancers, Huntsman felt that research efforts would benefit greatly from the record base.

Finding a cure to genetic cancers, he said, would eliminate 40 percent of the more than 200 types of cancer in the world today.

"It's an enormous job we have," Huntsman said, adding that he views curing cancer as one of the "great problems of the world," including achieving world peace and absolving the national debt.

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