The job of overseeing the Marshall Cancer Care Center is similar to being put in charge of running a small hospital. It has its own staff of doctors, a pharmacist, a lab, a radiation department, a chemo infusion department, and a host of specialty nurses. The director ensures the facility has sufficient staff and supplies to treat patients. Every employee contributes to the ultimate goal of providing compassionate care to their neighbors, families and friends.
“The members of the community who developed the ‘Closer to Home’ theme couldn’t have said it better,” said Traci Stewart, a longtime member of the Marshall Medical family and the new executive director of the Marshall Cancer Care Center.
Constructed in 2013, the center welcomed more than 800 people to an open house for the facility that would deliver cancer care for patients in Marshall and surrounding counties. In the first year, more than a thousand patients were treated in the new location. That number doubled within five years. With approximately 500 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Marshall County each year, the need was great. The Marshall Cancer Care Center sought to meet that need by offering the convenience of quality cancer care without requiring patients to travel to get it.
“It is a beautiful building,” Stewart said. “After visiting other cancer centers, I appreciate it even more. It is hands down such a high quality facility.”
The 22,000 square foot facility located mid-county is an associate of the UAB Health System Cancer Community Network.
Former Director Cindy Sparkman has been the face of the Cancer Center through the first seven years in its new home and before that at Marshall Medical Center South before it moved to the new location. Her decision to pursue other interests earlier this year opened the door for Stewart to move into the role.
“This was an incredible opportunity,” she said. “It is an honor to work with such a talented and compassionate group.”
Knowing she was stepping into big shoes following Sparkman, Stewart is focusing on being one part of the talented staff known for making the Cancer Center the healing place it is today.
“Everyone in Marshall County knows Cindy,” she said. “I hope the community will remember fondly the great things she did for the Cancer Center and the compassionate team she helped formulate. There are a whole host of great people here ready to help, answer questions and provide kind, compassionate care.”
Stewart grew up in Blount County with loving and supportive parents, who are soon to be married 50 years. She graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1996 with a degree in Accounting. In 1997, a staff accountant job opened up at Marshall North, then called Guntersville-Arab Medical Center. She took the job and moved to Arab with her husband Brian.
As a teenager, Stewart had the opportunity to work in healthcare thanks to her Dad, also an accountant, at a Blue Cross Blue Shield office in Riverchase. Long before computers completely replaced piles of paperwork, Stewart spent summers there preparing paper claims files. Later while pursuing an accounting degree herself, she worked at then Cullman Medical Center as a switchboard operator. Coincidentally, she worked there with Mrs. Cheryl Hays, now president of Marshall Health Systems. Those early jobs in the medical field influenced Stewart toward a career in healthcare. She was drawn to the opportunity to help people through her work. “It doesn’t matter what your title is or what level of education you have, if you’re part of a healthcare team you have the opportunity to help other people.”
Stewart eventually moved up to director of accounting and then to corporate compliance officer for the Marshall Health System. By then, the system had accumulated so many employed physicians, the job of practice manager was created and Stewart was tapped for it. In that role, she makes sure clinics are operational and that they have the staff and supplies they need. It’s becoming more challenging for solo physicians to operate without the buying power from a larger entity with the soaring costs of such things as medical supplies and insurance for employees. That makes it more financially attractive for physicians to be part of a health system, Stewart explained. Marshall Medical has 37 excellent physicians directly employed in various specialties working out of 15 different clinic locations plus the two hospitals.
Stewart serves as the Executive Director for the Cancer Center and Practice Management. She is currently pursuing an MBA with a concentration in health care management at the University North Alabama. She and her husband, Brian, have been married for 26 years. Brian works at Dynetics in Huntsville. Their son Zachary, 20, a senior at the University of Alabama, is planning to go to law school. Daughter Lindsey, 18, will be a freshman at the University of Alabama this fall. She is considering a nursing career.
The greatest part of the job at the Cancer Center is working with the ‘phenomenal’ employees, she said. “They go the extra mile to get to know the patients. That’s what sets us apart from the other cancer centers. Our staff is genuinely kind and compassionate.”
Also, the patients are a pleasure to treat because of their wonderful attitudes. Then there’s the community, which takes it on themselves to try to do whatever they can for the center. For example, throughout the pandemic, community members concerned about immune compromised patients have made hundreds of masks.
“Ladies in the area sprang into sewing action and they haven’t stopped.” The generosity extends to businesses, too. Walgreens of Boaz donated gallons of sanitizer. “It is genuinely a family atmosphere because as they deliver these items they say, ‘my relative was treated here… a mother, a father, an aunt……that prompted them to make a donation.”
The Cancer Center volunteers also are a vital part of the staff family. Many of them have been donating their time to greet and care for patients since the beginning.
“We have a great team,” Stewart said. “They go the extra mile to get to know the patients. Patients may see the same quality pieces of equipment in a larger city, but they will find compassionate and convenient care ‘Closer to Home’.”