After years of study, an East Bay physicians group made a decision: It would buy a nearly 100,000-square-foot building in Walnut Creek and renovate the structure into a state-of-the-art, one-stop cancer center.
The move is a major investment in a space where health care systems are battling for their share of the medical dollar, said CEO Inez Wondeh. In all, doctors under the BASS banner practice across nearly 30 specialties in 10 Bay Area counties, but oncology has been a longtime target for executing on the group’s overall mission to help independent doctors continue to see patients in their communities, Wondeh said.
“We are a one-stop shop,” Wondeh said about the planned cancer center, “so the patient is not driving around town for imaging, their blood work and their cancer care.”
BASS isn’t saying exactly how much it is spending on the new center, which it is opening at 575 Lennon Lane with Contra Costa Oncology, a cancer practice that BASS hopes to bring into its fold. The organization bought the building in March 2020 for $12.25 million, according to Contra Costa County property records.
The deal closed in mid-March 2020 — just as the Covid pandemic hit — and BASS Medical Group’s business turned upside-down.
Now, as patients find their way back to doctor’s offices, the 1,800-employee independent doctors group is moving forward with plans to open its cancer center in January. It’s a crowning achievement for the organization, which over he past 14 years has grown from nine doctors to more than 400.
BASS also isn’t saying how many people will work out of the site after Colin Construction Co. of Auburn finishes its work.
“The financial outlay is significant for an independent physicians group,” Wondeh said, noting that unaffiliated doctors face pressures when it comes to reimbursement, keeping pace with back-office technologies and pressure to sell heir practices to other medical groups or private equity firms.
The new center will include two linear accelerator vaults — customized machines for delivering radiation therapy with a high degree of precision, so less healthy tissue is hit, said Dr. Kenneth Chao, who joined BASS in January as Director of radiation oncology. What’s more, new technology at the center also will track a patient’s position while setting up therapy, eliminating therapy tattoos that often are needed to make sure the same spot is hit with radiation over multiple therapy sessions.
The new equipment and technology together could reduce some patients’ visits from as many as 45 to five or even one.
“The goal of radiation therapy is ‘less is best,’” Chao said. “Part of it is seeing the cancer and tissue and each day being in the same position. It gives the target reliability.”
BASS’s center also can offer comprehensive cancer services, including palliative care, nutrition counseling and more under one roof, Wondeh said. What’s more, the center could boost BASS doctors’ ability to participate in cancer drug clinical trials.
The experience for patients is key, she said, especially as patients feel increasing comfort with in-office visits as the Covid pandemic loosens its grip. BASS saw patient visits drop substantially from 1 million in 2019, with some doctors seeing visits drop by more than 80% as BASS scurried to find telehealth options for doctors and patients. The squeeze came against the backdrop of a competitive East Bay health care environment, where UCSF Health and Stanford Health Care have made inroads along with Kaiser Permanente, John Muir Health, Sutter Health and others. BASS’s doctors continue to work with those institutions, but Wondeh said the medical group’s cancer center and a general surgery and radiation oncology center, which opened earlier this year in a former Best Buy in Brentwood, fills a ready niche for patients and doctors.
“Sometimes doctors don’t know the power of their own voices,” Wondeh said. “You’re told you can’t do this or that, you can’t see patients — we have been so beaten into compliance. But those doctors just want to see patients.”