PENINSULA — Ocean Beach Hospital’s chemotherapy services are no longer being offered.
In March, the Department of Health did a routine survey of the hospital and found OBH wasn’t following federal pharmacopeia regulations.
“This is a really rare occurrence for us to shut down a program,” said OBH CEO Larry Cohen, who’s worked for the hospital since 2014. “This is significant. It hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.”
Regulations require hospitals to mix chemotherapy drugs in a sterile environment, with positive pressure and ventilation. This wasn’t happening at the Ilwaco facility.
“Those are three pretty heavy parameters for us to comply with in a hospital that’s 45 years old and wasn’t built to comply with new rules as they come out,” Cohen said. “We seriously looked at trying to do it but we just don’t have the physical floor pan to make it reasonably doable.”
OBH would have needed to become compliant with the regulations by December 2019 in order to continue its chemotherapy services. Since the survey, OBH has tried to find a local vendor that could supply the drugs, but hasn’t found one. OBH reached out to hospitals from Longview to Seaside, Cohen said, and also looked into other vendors that could send drugs to the hospital.
“It became clear to us that from a patient’s safety perspective, shipping something in just added another level of complexity,” Cohen said. “In healthcare specifically, minimizing hand-offs is a pretty standard way to improve quality. If you’re not mixing the drugs, from our perspective, you lose the quality control.”
Cohen said losing that quality control “just wasn’t something we were comfortable doing.”
Because of the change, OBH has been referring patients to other providers. About 20 patients were using OBH’s chemotherapy services; many have transferred care to Columbia Memorial Hospital, Cohen said.
OBH is in discussions with potential providers that would allow the hospital to keep some medical oncology and related ancillary services, Cohen said. Services could include new patient consults, lab work, radiology and surgery.
“I wouldn’t do anything that didn’t regionally make sense,” Cohen said. “I’m looking for a collaboration with another cancer program that would allow us to keep as many non-chemotherapy services here on the Peninsula.”
Deborah Bennett went to OBH for stage-four cancer, which she survived. She credits Dr. Ivan Law with saving her life.
“The hospital dropped the ball here,” Bennett said. “This will take services from people who need it.”
Law, who provided oncology services at the hospital for the past decade, is retiring as of July 18. A letter sent on June 14 to his past and current patients credits the change as his reason for retiring.
“Due to these changings, I will be leaving the employment of Ocean Beach Hospital and Medical Clinics,” Law said in the letter. “For nearly the last 10 years, I have very much enjoyed working with the OBHMC staff in caring for your medical oncology needs.”
Cohen said it’s too soon to know what impact the changing services will have on the community. Aside from Law retiring, no other staff will be leaving OBH, Cohen said.
“OBHMC is very grateful to Dr. Law for enabling the delivery of medical oncology services at OBHMC for 10-plus years,” Cohen said. “Medical oncology is a program that very few critical-access hospitals can offer.”
OBH will still offer infusion services, and accept infusion orders from local and regional providers.
“OBHMC will continue to provide the residents and visitors of South Pacific County with many high-quality, safe, financially responsible and ‘close to home’ services,” Cohen said.
This is Law’s second retirement. After more than 30 years in private practice, he retired in January 2010 from his bustling Portland clinic to take the full-time position in Ilwaco. For four years prior to that, he had been commuting to the coast, running a weekend program at the hospital.
A board certified oncologist, Law trained at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Cancer Institute. He practiced in Portland and was affiliated with Providence Cancer Center and Legacy Emanuel hospitals.