‘We are committed to people’
Steven Limentani, MD, on how Novant Health is changing the face of cancer care
Imagine a visit to the doctor without a stop in the waiting room.
The concept is almost unheard of as waiting has become almost a standard at clinics and healthcare facilities across the U.S. But Steven Limentani, MD, believes there can be a better way — a healthcare experience without that uncomfortable and lengthy stop on the way to receiving care.
“The length of time you’re kept waiting is directly proportional to the size of the waiting room, so one of my pet peeves is big waiting rooms,” said Limentani, the chief scientific officer for Novant Health and the leader of all cancer services across the Novant Health system. “We were having a planning meeting a couple of years ago, and I looked at the group and said, ‘Why do we need waiting rooms? Why don’t we do away with them and figure out how to have patients arrive for a visit and immediately go to their first site of care?’”
Now, he’s watching that vision come to life in the building that will house the John M. and Claudia W. Belk Heart & Vascular Institute, as well as the Edward I. and Agnes B. Weisiger Cancer Institute. When it opens this fall, there be no waiting room. Instead, patients will spend their time receiving care, treatments, integrative therapies, screenings and consultations.
“The reason I continue to do what I do is because I want to be involved in changing the face of cancer care and making it better for patients,” Limentani said.
The new Cancer Institute is a perfect case in point: In addition to the no-wait policy, the institute has strategically placed infusion on the top floor of the building, surrounded by glass walls that offer a view of Charlotte’s skyline. Also available will be on-site integrative treatments such as acupuncture, massage and other therapies that help patients fight cancer, all offered at the SherryStrong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic. A developmental therapeutics unit will conduct research on novel agents to help identify new treatments and breakthrough therapies.
”We’ve created an environment that will be warm, while at the same time being technically competent. When you develop a cancer center, the high quality of care must be a given, but the other components of what we do are the secret sauce,” Limentani said.
That work isn’t just happening in Charlotte. The Derrick L. Davis Cancer Center provides top-quality care in Winston-Salem, and the Wallace Cancer Institute in Salisbury, North Carolina, is nearly complete and slated to open in August.
“We strive to have full-service clinics in places other than center city Charlotte. For some highly specialized services, people may need to go downtown, but generally, we will do as much of the care as possible close to the patient’s home. Most systems would not go to that length, but we are,” Limentani said.
It’s a philosophy that embodies the kind of servant leadership Limentani has applied throughout his career, including most recently during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“COVID-19 was truly a profound challenge in the sense that we were, in very short order, faced with a situation where our patients who are often immunocompromised were at increased risk to develop a viral infection that was poorly understood,” Limentani said.
“At the same time, we had patients who were in the middle of treatment for whom we needed to continue to provide care. We also knew there was the risk that if a provider or a nurse got infected, we might have to shut down a clinic and not have the opportunity to provide care in that location,” he said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we created an environment where the people doing the care would not be exposed to a whole team of other people — where, if one team went down, we would have a whole other team to provide care.”
In addition, Limentani took to hosting transparent and honest daily meetings with his team.
“Very early on, you saw everyone saying, ‘We must’ and then they would fill in the blank as if they knew the answers. I took a different approach,” he said. “I said, ‘This is what we think. This is the best data we have available. I may be coming back to you tomorrow to say that what we have decided today has changed, but here’s what we think the best approach is. Let’s get feedback and see if it makes sense.’ As a result, our patients continued to be treated, and the feedback we got was that they felt safe.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is in many ways unprecedented, it was not unfamiliar territory for Limentani. As a young doctor in the 1980s, he worked at the largest HIV hospital in Boston.
“There are many things about COVID-19 that are similar to what, at the time, we didn’t even call HIV. We didn’t understand transmission. We thought that if you got it, you were dead. So in the early days of COVID-19, to me, it was almost like déjà vu,” he said. “When you’re in an environment like this, the good news is, if you have high-quality individuals, most of them step up.”
That’s what happened across the cancer centers in the Novant Health system, Limentani said.
“Our commitment to the patient is that, when they walk through the door, they’re going to get the best, most advanced treatment,” Limentani said. “But that’s only a portion of the equation. What we always have to remember is that we’re taking care of people. A patient is not their diagnosis. If Jane Doe has a cancer diagnosis, that doesn’t make Jane Doe the cancer. She has a cancer that we need to help her beat.”
Limentani has found that kind of patient focus comes naturally within the walls of Novant Health.
“This is a place where we actually value all the people within the system. When we use ‘team member’ or ‘teammates,’ we really mean it. When we use the word ‘remarkable,’ we really mean it, and we’re committed to it,” he said. “What I think I’ve been most impressed by within Novant Health overall is that, from the top down, we are committed to people.”
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