UVM Health Network

UVM Health Network Transforming Cancer Care Across Region Through State-of-the-Art Radiation Treatment Upgrades

Technological improvements to better meet patient needs

Patient lying down in a radiation oncology machine

Burlington, Vt. – It’s a life altering diagnosis that someone in Vermont and northern New York  hears every day, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” At a time when these patients are most vulnerable and looking for the best possible chance for survival, The University of Vermont Health Network is responding with an investment in advanced technology that is a major step forward in the delivery of lifesaving radiation treatments patients need, close to home.

The Network is partnering with Varian – a company that specializes in imaging and cancer care
technologies and services – on a multi-year strategy to replace and upgrade six state-of-the-art linear accelerators at Central Vermont Medical Center, The University of Vermont Medical Center, Alice Hyde Medical Center and Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital. These machines are an important weapon for people requiring radiation therapy, targeting their tumors with pinpoint accuracy while preventing harm to nearby healthy tissue. They are used to treat cancers in numerous areas of the body, including brain, spine, lung, breast, esophagus, stomach, rectum, uterus, prostate, bladder, liver and bones.

In addition to the new accelerators, a shared patient oncology care planning system and cloud-based software will be installed at the hospitals, allowing health system cancer experts to review patient treatment plans regardless of where in the Network a patient receives care. The work is part of the UVM Health Network’s commitment to provide patients in our region with high quality care in the state-of-the-art, modern facilities they deserve.

“The promise of our Network lies in the goal that no matter where you live in our region, you will have access to the leading edge academic medical care we provide,” said Sunny Eappen, MD, MBA, President and CEO of The UVM Health Network. “I am incredibly proud of the team that worked on this plan and I know, when fully implemented, it will make a sizeable difference in the lives of the patients receiving this type of care.”
The need for this specialized care is clear, with all four sites across the health system combining to provide 25,000 treatments using the linear accelerators in the 2023 fiscal year. The current machines have been in use for more than a decade, and new upgrades have been developed that are necessary to improve efficiency. The new system will expedite the planning process, which will ultimately benefit patients.

“Over time, this will allow all of our sites to move patients through more quickly. With that efficiency comes improved access to timely treatment and simultaneously increases quality of care,” H. James Wallace, MD, Radiation Oncology Chair at The University of Vermont Health Network and Medical Director for Cancer Clinical Programs for the UVM Cancer Center, offered.

He also explained the deal includes an accelerator equipped with advanced technology that opens the door to a new form of radiation therapy.

“This new machine will give us tremendous diagnostic CAT scan quality images with the patient very fast. Those images will allow our providers to better see what the tumor looks like today and how it and the surrounding area have changed since yesterday. Based on that, thanks to the new software we’ll be installing, we’ll be able to change the radiation treatment from day-to-day with each patient as needed, optimizing how we attack the tumor and spare everything around it. It’s called adaptive treatment, and it’s a huge advantage for our patients.”

The new oncology care planning system and cloud-based software will also ensure that each patient, regardless of location, will have access to expertise across the health system. At the same time, the radiation oncology teams in Berlin, Burlington, Malone and Plattsburgh will be able to work together in ways that are not possible with the current system in place.

“We’re going to be able to collaborate better than ever before. If you live in the Malone area, for example, you will be able to get your radiation treatment at Alice Hyde, yet still have experts in Plattsburgh and Burlington in your corner helping give you the best possible edge in attacking your cancer,” Dr. Wallace noted.

Dr. Wallace added that incorporating an accelerator capable of adaptive treatment is an investment in the future of radiation therapy, positioning the health system to provide specialized, high quality, state-of-the-art care years from now. The new machines will support academics at the University of Vermont, assuring undergraduate students participating in the radiation therapy training program offered through the College of Nursing and Health Sciences have access to the most modern equipment and environment for learning. And the upgrades will meet equipment requirements to enroll patients in clinical research trials while ensuring the Network has clinical capabilities that will be attractive to radiation oncology candidates in future employee recruitment.

“This really sets us up as a health system to ensure we have a highly trained staff that will provide excellent care in our region, bring top talent to our teams and unlock opportunities for further research that can save lives,” Dr. Wallace stated.

The partnership with Varian underscores the Network’s long-term commitment to pursuing strategic priorities that respond to the needs of patients and staff. Health system leaders, including Dr. Eappen, noted that this investment is a major win in the Network’s mission to preserve and increase access to care in Vermont and New York’s North Country. He added that it is also critical in achieving the goal of being a national leader in providing comprehensive cancer care, “giving our patients and their loved ones every chance we can to live beyond cancer and continue to enjoy the people and experiences that are important to them.”

Next Steps

Initial work will include replacement of the current linear accelerator at CVMC. Work is underway to apply for a Certificate of Need, and if approved, construction is expected to begin later in 2024, with a go-live date in 2025. The replacement and installation of new accelerators at UVMMC, AHMC and CVPH will follow, taking place over the next three to four years. Also, during this time, Varian will install the new patient treatment planning system and cloud-based software.

“These are exciting times for our folks in radiation oncology and for the many communities we serve,” Dr. Wallace added. “Our patients – and their loved ones – are going to see tremendous benefits because of this investment in our teams by The University of Vermont Health Network.”