Jill’s House, Ivy Tech feeling impact of IU Health Proton Therapy Center’s closure

The Herald-Times
Posted: Saturday, August 23, 2014
By Michael Reschke 812-331-4370 | mreschke@heraldt.com 

 “Our primary mission will cease to exist,” said Susan Dabkowski, executive director.

Jill’s House opened seven years ago as a place for proton therapy patients and their families to stay during treatment. At the time the proton therapy center opened in 2004, it was one of only three such facilities in the country.

“People were traveling great distances and needed a place to stay during two-month-long treatment,” Dabkowski said.

The center, which uses a proton beam generated by the IU Cyclotron to provide focused radiation treatments for certain types of tumors, is now one of 14 such centers in the United States. Another 20 are in development or planning, and most, if not all, offer advanced technology making them significantly less expensive than the center at IU, according to a news release from IU.

Indiana University Health announced Friday it would close the financially struggling center once the current roster of patients has completed treatment, which is expected to occur no later than Jan. 1, 2015. That decision will affect not only Jill’s House, but also Ivy Tech Community College’s Bloomington campus.

Ivy Tech has used the cyclotron as a clinical site for students in its radiation therapy degree program. The school’s administration just learned of the closure and is currently working on a plan, according to a prepared statement. Students will, however, continue to use the space for the fall semester.

Larry Swafford, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Radiation Therapy, plans to work with faculty to find other clinical sites within the state where students can complete their labs.

“This is something we’re doing all the time, as standard operating procedure,” Swafford said in the school’s prepared statement. “So, we have students at other clinical sites as well.”

The school is confident it will have clinical sites for students in spring 2015.

There are no such guarantees for Jill’s House, though. Despite broadening its mission in 2010 to accept patients, their families and caregivers from any area health care facility, the number of potential guests will decrease dramatically.

“Right now, we have 25 guest rooms,” Dabkowski said. “Without the proton therapy center, there’s no way to continue to sustain operations as per normal.”

Jill’s House is a nonprofit organization governed by a board of 13 directors. About half its funding comes from lodging fees, while the other half comes from donations, Dabkowski said.

One possibility is to more closely model the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis, which provides low-cost short- to long-term lodging for families of critically ill or injured children receiving treatment at Indianapolis-area hospitals. However, Bloomington does not have the large, regional hospitals that Indianapolis does.

“If there’s something we can continue to do to serve this niche population, that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Dabkowski said. “If we can continue, we will; if we can’t, we’ll face that reality.”

Phil Thompson, a former patient of the center who in 2005 helped create HoosiersCare — a 501(c)(3) organization offering free or low-cost housing to proton therapy patients and their families — said that group’s future is also murky.

“HoosiersCare owns four furnished condos that are all fully paid for,” he said. “If HoosiersCare can no longer carry on, then we may sell them and give the money to Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, or perhaps keep one condo the church could use to house visiting families.”

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