Thoracic surgeon Rodney Landreneau, M.D., joined the Ochsner Cancer Institute in New Orleans as director in 2013 with an ambitious goal, creating a Mesothelioma Specialty Program that could service the entire Gulf South Region.
His vision already has been expanded. Now he wants an international program.
Landreneau hopes to extend his reach and begin attracting patients from South and Central America, where specialized mesothelioma care has been slow to develop, while the incidence of the disease has grown considerably.
“As far as I know, there are no institutions there focusing on mesothelioma,” Landreneau told Asbestos.com recently. “South and Central America have some of the same risks and exposures, and high incidence rates that we have on the Gulf Coast. We can help them here. It would be a natural fit.”
Landreneau is expecting to utilize Ochsner’s long-standing stretch into South America, where it has been a popular health care destination for patients with the means to travel. The Ochsner International Health Services Department already has a proven framework in place, which should simplify the move into international mesothelioma care.
Long History of International Patients
Ochsner physicians have been treating an estimated 4,000 international patients annually. The majority is seen at the Ochsner Medical Center, but doctors affiliated with Ochsner also travel to remote locations for specialized medical care.
“The medical relationship between Ochsner and [Latinos] goes back to the founding of this institution [in 1942],” Landreneau said. “And that relationship continues today. There already is an extensive referral pattern here.”
Landreneau grew up in Louisiana, but spent 20 years at the acclaimed University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where he helped build its mesothelioma specialty center. Returning to his home state to work was special, particularly after seeing the void at an already well-respected health care facility.
Shortly after his arrival back in New Orleans, he performed the first surgical debulking/hyperthermic chemoperfusion treatment for a pleural mesothelioma patient in state history – setting the tone for things to come. Ochsner surgical oncologist W. Charles Conway has been seeing peritoneal mesothelioma cases at an unprecedented rate in recent months.
“There have been exciting advancements in mesothelioma care in recent years,” Landreneau said. “This is not a death sentence anymore. We can help people with this. It’s always treatable now with some form of therapy.”
New Orleans Not Just for Tourists
New Orleans, along with Miami and Houston, are typically the three most popular health care destinations for patients from South and Central America.
“We have the ability to do things here [at Ochsner] that only a handful of places can do,” said Ana Hands, director of International Health Services Program at Ochsner. “It’s not hard to convince someone to come here because we’ve got such a good reputation as one of the top five hospitals in the country in most categories. And people love our city, too.”
Ochsner has a history of catering to international patients and a tradition of medical excellence, taking pride in great service before, during and after each visit. The thoracic surgeons have been innovators in minimally invasive approaches to lung cancer and mesothelioma. There are specialties in everything from prenatal to geriatric care.
The International Health Services Program is especially sensitive to the desires and needs of its patients, including unique cultural needs. A patient coordinator is specifically assigned to each international patient to provide personalized service.
They help with everything from travel, lodging and financial paperwork to dinner reservations for family members. They don’t stand in line with the general population. There are no language barriers because a translator is always available, too.
International Patients Get Special Treatment
“We expedite everything for our international patients,” Hands said. “What we provide is more like a concierge service with one-stop shopping. We make it very easy for them. It’s why 99 percent of the time, they will say ‘it was a great experience.'”
International patients getting treatment at Ochsner can stay at the adjacent Brent House, a luxury hotel where families and caregivers often go. There is the Hope Lodge just a block away, where families of patents getting treatment can stay for free.
Depending on the extent of the illness being treated, patients and families often turn a trip to Ochsner into an extended vacation while visiting the sights and sounds of New Orleans.
“They [international patients] will come because we can offer hope for extended, meaningful survival with this disease today,” Landreneau said. “And this is an inviting and friendly town to be in. People are treated well here.”