Skip to main content

Bitterroot Health prepares to serve oncology patients in new center

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Recently, 25 members of the Bitterroot Health Auxiliary were given a sneak peek of the new Infusion and Oncology Center at Bitterroot Health. Many of the volunteers in attendance also signed up for shifts to provide hospitality services and enhance the patient experience in the new treatment area.

Gloria Wukelich is a retired nurse who moved to the valley several years ago and has been volunteering at fundraising events for the Bitterroot Health Foundation. She is thrilled to commit to two weekly shifts to assist infusion patients.

"This is just an amazing facility and I'm so looking forward to helping our community, especially those going through difficult treatments," she said.

The Infusion and Oncology Center is an addition to the south side of Daly Hospital in Hamilton and one of several phases to renovate space for improved patient care. Access through a new main entrance provides a convenient and more direct route to infusion chairs for those with compromised immunities.

“This was a vision by our organization in 2018,” said Jennifer Bush, director of Patient Care Services. “The pandemic caused some delays, and yet, here we are in this beautiful space ready to provide the best experience possible for our patients needing care.”

Bush was part of a team that toured many oncology centers in the western region and helped design a space that was patient-centric while also giving staff and volunteers the best working conditions to take care of patients. The center provides 13 options — from private rooms to group areas near large windows — for patients to choose their comfort level during treatments lasting from one to six hours.

“We’re able to provide increased options for appointments by expanding services up to five days a week,” Bush said. “We realize that there are many in our community who are unable to travel for treatments, and in rare cases some choose no treatment at all because of the strain on friends, family and finances. We know that by opening this space with access to oncology specialists, we will be providing essential treatments closer to home and that will make all the difference.”

Bitterroot Health has contracted with Intermountain Health of Utah to provide oncology specialists to work with a local team of Bitterroot Health employees to staff the center. They will start seeing oncology patients in early summer.

Dr. Erik Rupard traveled to Hamilton on April 21 with a team of Intermountain Health specialists to tour the new space and meet with oncology patients. He’ll be communicating during their appointments via tele-health.

“We have treatment rooms with large screen televisions where patients can sit with our nurses and nurse practitioners to speak with Dr. Rupard and develop a patient-centered treatment plan with support,” Bush said. “The cameras they have are amazing. If I was sitting in this chair, they could read the fine print on my badge while we speak, so the ability for them to interact with patients is nearly as great as having them in the room.”

Jenny Van de Baan is the nurse practitioner committed to the Infusion and Oncology Center full-time. She will be receiving training with the oncology team in Utah for several weeks prior to the opening of the center as well as receive continued training and support.

The clinic has been the focus of a capital fundraising campaign for the Bitterroot Health Foundation since the end of 2020. They’ve raised a portion of the $4.2 million budget for the new center, but are still meeting with donors to provide support.

“Everything from cupcake sales by our high school volleyball players to bricks in the courtyard to generous multi-year pledges by loyal donors has helped to build this center,” Stacie Duce said. Duce is the Director of Philanthropy and has been providing tours to donors during the last few weeks.

“Based on the size of the charitable gift, we have spaces in the center named after our donors or in memory of those they wanted to dedicate their gift,” she said. “We’re really grateful for the generosity of our neighbors and friends.”

Valerie Gates just received news that her most recent chemo treatment will be her last. After a recent tour, she quipped that she’s sad she won't be able to receive treatment in the new space, but she’s happy to support the cause financially so that others can receive infusions and chemo closer to home.

“I’ve spent a lot of time as a patient and as a caregiver to my husband and to my friends,” Gates said. “This is a wonderful place, even better than some that I’ve seen at bigger hospitals and renowned cancer clinics.”

Troy Collins, a Hamilton resident and internationally-recognized impressionist artist, toured the space when hard hats were still required. He was inspired to paint a 10-foot canvas called, “Healing Waters” that adorns the wall in the new entrance’s foyer.

“I wanted to paint something that would provide hope to people as they come to the hospital and face overwhelming challenges,” he said. “The scene features the Bitterroot River that runs nearby and is a view from my studio.

“My wife, Gina, has been battling breast cancer and I know what it means to be a caregiver of someone going through those treatments,” Collins said. “We all need to support each other when families are going through that process – the patients, the caregivers, everyone. This is something that I could do to help.”

Calming photography of local landscapes was provided by Nathan Wotkyns of WideAngle Photography in Hamilton.

“I am very honored to share something beautiful to comfort those receiving treatments at our hospital,” he said.

Peg Doerfler is the President of Bitterroot Health Auxiliary and a breast cancer survivor. She helped arrange the pre-opening tour for the Auxiliary volunteers.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for our volunteers to see the new space and find excitement about truly serving in our community,” she said. “We hope the Auxiliary is joined by others, especially if they have a heart for taking care of our patients."

The Auxiliary donated $50,000 as a sponsor of the refreshment center for patients. They also purchased the blanket warmer and blankets for the new center.

Doral Vial has been volunteering on Wednesdays in the Specialty Clinic for several years.

“Before Covid, we used to have kind of a potluck lunch for everyone who was receiving infusions. It really felt like a community experience,” she said. “Now the Auxiliary will help make sure patients have what they need during those long infusions – good food, someone to talk to if they wish, and especially those warm blankets.”

A Montana nonprofit, UnitedLuv, donated 14 iPads for patients to use during treatments. Those will be delivered by Vicki Eaton this month in memory of her son who suffered from cancer as a young adult and used his business earnings to buy iPads for others who were receiving treatments.

The Auxiliary members are working to create and gather items for new oncology patients.

“Whatever we can do to help make it a pleasant experience is our priority,” Doerfler said.

Other pieces of equipment that have recently been unboxed and set up in the center. For instance, IV pumps, have been purchased by collective fundraising efforts by local groups and businesses including the American Heritage Girls who donated their earnings from their Ravalli County Fair food booth, Bitterroot Health employee donors, and Colors of Cancer event participants.

“If there ever was a philanthropic cause that will significantly benefit the most people in this valley, our community-supported cancer center is the answer,” Duce said. “We all will be affected by a cancer diagnosis at some point in our lives – whether it’s a loved one, a friend or ourselves. So I’m incredibly proud to help rally funding for a space where we can help each other endure that challenge in the best situation possible and closer to home.”

For more information on volunteering in the new infusion center or to make a donation, call the Bitterroot Health Foundation at 406-375-4674 or email Donations can also be made online at

Read the original story HERE