A cancer diagnosis is daunting enough without the added stress of traveling to Pittsburgh for treatments and tests.
In an effort to accommodate the region and help put Uniontown on the map, UPMC recently expanded their operations in Fayette County with the opening of their new UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
“It’s a dream. As many clinics as I’ve been to, this is by far the best,” said Dr. Sajid Peracha, a medical oncologist at the facility located along Matthew Drive in South Union Township. “There are all kinds of possibilities here now in Uniontown. It’s very convenient for patients, and private parking with a medical plaza feel.”
Jennifer McManus, senior practice manager, said the facility was designed to improve overall patient experience.
“One of the biggest factors was being able to offer it closer to home. A lot of patients think they need to go to Pittsburgh, but we’re here. We’re local,” McManus said.
In addition to its central Uniontown location that’s close to a hospital and nearby medical facilities, the architectural design itself offered other conveniences for patients.
McManus said their old bays were elbow to elbow. Now, 22 spacious patient bays come complete with a recliner and personal TV for patients receiving chemo treatments. The bays are also located in a heavily-windowed area.
“That was my dream — to have windows! The way our chemo center is located, as long as the sun is out, you’ll see it shining in the chemo area,” Peracha said. “For cancer patients, that’s a big hope — to see brightness and sunshine. We can help accomplish that.”
One of Peracha’s other dreams was to have a covered canopy by the main entrance to keep patients safe and dry in the elements.
“We didn’t have that before, but in the new office, four cars can get under the canopy. Whether raining or snowing, patients can get out of their cars and won’t be slipping or getting wet,” Peracha said, adding that it’s also safer for those in wheelchairs.
Once the patients are in the exam rooms, they might also find it easier to maneuver the ups and downs of an exam with a motorized exam table.
“Typically, you go from the chair to the exam table and have to step up on a stool — but here with oncology patients, sometimes that’s not possible. The strength is not there sometimes,” Peracha said. “But now, the table goes all the way up for the exam and then goes down in the sitting position so they can get off easily. That means a lot for patients who don’t feel good, and it’s better for wheelchair patients.”
From a medical perspective, the center offers a number of innovations in research and patient treatment.
Peracha said with a laugh that he has a new toy — a refrigerated centrifuge that allows samples to stay frozen or warm for research.
“It’s a new era, a new road, with the centrifuge being available now,” Peracha said. “It’s provided growth for me on a personal level.”
They also now house a state-of-the-art pharmacy, two separate waiting rooms, computerized check-in kiosks and a care center with refreshments for patients and their family members while receiving chemo treatments.
For Peracha, who has been a physician in Uniontown since 2004, the experience has been a way to give back to society, and to make this process easier and more comfortable for patients.
He said it’s also been a way to carry out the legacy of Dr. Louis Pietragallo, a well-respected local physician on the frontier of cancer treatment decades ago.
“It means a lot to me to carry that on,” Peracha said. “And now, the possibilities are endless here. The gratification this gives us is unimaginable, to be able to help somebody.”