written by Jason Bolton – Data Editor, Memphis Business Journal
Click here to view article on Memphis Business Journal website.
Creating a collaborative community of care is an important concept for Dr. Matthew Ballo.
In 2014, Ballo was recruited to Memphis to head up the radiation oncology department at West Cancer Center — then called The West Clinic.
He’d spent 17 years at the mecca of cancer care in the U.S. — MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The quest to create a similarly focused cancer center for Memphis was underway when he arrived at West. And, Ballo saw it as an opportunity to build beyond the norm in cancer care.
“[West] needed someone who could focus not just on seeing patients but also focus on elevating the level of care that we have here in Memphis and focus on education and research,” Ballo said. “That’s been a long journey to where we are today [as a cancer center].”
In February 2021, Ballo joined West Cancer Center as an ownership partner, along with Dr. Richard Fine, director of education and research for the Margaret West Comprehensive Breast Center; and Dr. Eric Wiedower, a medical oncologist focused on oncology care in North Mississippi.
West Cancer Center is now owned by physician partners. Including the newly named partners, there are 21 physician owners of West.
Coming to Memphis, Ballo was impressed with care given to patients by the medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists and other care providers at The West Clinic. But, having seen the way MD Anderson operated, the individual care silos at West also made an impression.
“When I came [here], that was the way oncology was practiced. It was very fragmented,” Ballo said. “What [the idea of] West Cancer Center was all about was bringing together all of the specialists into one location, into one room, [and] into one clinic so that we could deliver the very best multidisciplinary care.”
As a community-based oncology practice, the funding for cancer care flowing out of Memphis was also striking to him. Ballo noticed fundraisers were held locally for MD Anderson and for Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, which he called “bizarre” given local needs in the area.
Partnerships evolved for West with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and then OneOncology. Silos came down at West and support for community-based care rose up in their place.
“We’ve got this momentum going that we didn’t have seven years ago,” Ballo said.
Since joining West, Ballo has shifted focus from an eye on the latest, greatest technology to how all the parts of cancer care work together.
“My tune has changed a little bit, I would have talked about the technology [in 2014]. Today, I’m focusing on efficient and effective care and value … [and] creating a department team of people who are able to work together to provide that value,” he said.
But, that doesn’t mean the infrastructure behind his department didn’t get an upgrade, too.
West Cancer Center targeted upgrades from old equipment to the latest technology and recruited top-notch physicists to maximize the treatment options from the equipment.
“We have recruited some of the best physicists that you can recruit, right here to Memphis,” Ballo said.
In total, Ballo oversees 40 staff members in his department, including radiation therapists, dosimetrists, physicists, physicians, nurses, and support staff.
In January 2021, the radiation oncology department had just over 2,000 appointments scheduled.
Ballo officially becoming an ownership partner only solidifies his commitment to what West Cancer Center brings to the community.
“Having come from MD Anderson and seen what it looks like at ‘the big house,’ Memphis did not have a cancer center at that time [in 2014] and we now have a cancer center,” Ballo said. “That means we really focus [in] on research, education, and clinical care.”