Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber ready for ‘rebirth’, new name as part of Chan Soon-Shiong Institute

The soon-to-be-former Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber has officially become a part of Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine.

Last week’s approval from the state attorney general’s Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section, cleared the way for the final transfer of control to take effect on New Year’s Day, said Tom Kurtz, hospital president and CEO.

The nonprofit Chan Soon-Shiong Institute was founded by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong of Los Angeles, the world’s richest doctor.

Soon-Shiong and his network of companies, NantWorks, are working to redefine health care through precision medicine, which bases treatment on the genetic makeup of the patient and the disease.

Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber joined the Chan Soon-Shiong Institute in September after the attorney general determined it would not require a full review.

Kurtz expects to announce a new name for the hospital within a few weeks.

“We are definitely going to change the name,” Kurtz said, explaining that several options are being considered to represent the significance of the new direction.

“We embrace the name change,” Kurtz said. “It will represent the history and symbolize that this isn’t the Windber Medical Center of old.

“It is not not a new beginning. We are proud of the history of this organization. It shows a rebirth.”

Windber already has a strong program to carry it to the next level of care, Soon-Shiong said.

“The thing that is amazing about Windber is the quality is excellent,” Soon-Shiong said in an exclusive interview with The Tribune-Democrat.

“The most important thing for us to do is ensure we not only retain, but enhance that quality of care.”

Beyond the name change, Kurtz said the community can expect to see the Windber hospital continue serving the community as it has for more than a century, but with expanded services and stronger connections with the latest research and treatment options.

It will begin with cancer treatment, already a forte of Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber and Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center.

“Oncology is going to be a big push for us,” Kurtz said.

Leadership is already talking to major research hospitals and organizations to bring clinical trials in immunotherapy to Windber.

The power of Soon-Shiong’s support has Windber selecting from among the best of the best. The only direction the new governing organization has given is: Whatever is best for Windber, Kurtz said.

“We’re just narrowing down the choices,” he said. “It’s nice to have choices.”

Soon-Shiong believes immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own defenses to fight cancer, is a major part of the future for cancer treatment.

“Cancer care is evolving now with immunotherapy,” Soon-Shiong said. “It has changed not only with the amazing outcomes but it is considerably less toxic than chemotherapy.”

He sees the existing relationship between the Windber hospital and the research institute as propelling Windber into the national spotlight of precision medicine.

The research institute is already respected in the field of genomics, as one of the largest contributors to the breast cancer genome mapping through The Cancer Genome Atlas project of the National Cancer Institute, Soon-Shiong noted.

Working together, the two Windber facilities will be developing treatments based on the genetic makeup of cancer tumors.

“Windber can serve as a beacon to the nation, where 21st Century research is translated rapidly into 21st Century care,” Soon-Shiong said.

Its new parent organizations’ internationally recognized work in cancer treatment will not limit the Windber hospital’s future to oncology, Kurtz stressed.

Its new parent organizations’ internationally recognized work in cancer treatment will not limit the Windber hospital’s future to oncology, Kurtz stressed.

“We will still remain an acute care hospital for the community, and not just convert into a national research hospital,” Kurtz said.

Based on surveys of community needs, Kurtz said, Windber is looking for areas of health care not being adequately provided in the community. Some of these are urology, psychiatry and neurology.

“We are looking to see how can we provide those services and offer patients a choice,” he said. “Not just as a choice, but a real option for the people of the community.”

Plans for an upgraded, expanded emergency department are also back on the front burner, but as part of an overall evaluation of hospital facilities.

“We are looking at the entire facility now,” Kurtz said. “We don’t want to just put a band-aid on it. This affords us the luxury to do things right.”

“It’s important that we support those local community hospitals,” Soon-Shiong said. “They need to have expertise that is cutting edge. We should be able to bring that scientific knowledge to the local community.