At a ceremony celebrating the completion of the framework of Orange County’s only cancer specialty hospital, it wasn’t the usual group of local dignitaries receiving all the accolades.
Rather, the dozens of people gathered at Irvine’s FivePoint campus on Wednesday, Sept. 6, all stood to applaud the group of construction workers clad in red hard hats and neon yellow vests.
Wednesday’s event was the “topping off” ceremony for the City of Hope Orange County’s 164,000 square foot, 73-bed cancer hospital, set to open in 2025. Topping off ceremonies are a longstanding tradition in the construction industry to commemorate the final structural beam being raised into place as well as a chance for the “suits” to honor and thank the “boots” on the ground.
With Andra Day’s “Rise Up” playing in the background, the audience, ranging from local elected officials and representatives from architecture and construction firms to healthcare workers in scrubs, cheered as the colossal, yellow tower crane picked up and placed that final beam.
The beam was filled with hundreds of signatures from construction workers, physicians, staff and elected officials.
“We always get so much credit for surgeries or our scientific skills, but the construction workers bring gifts to this community, too,” said Annette Walker, president of City of Hope Orange County.
Many of the 200 construction workers on site building the hospital are local to Orange County, Walker said.
City of Hope, she said, is excited to be able to provide more services in the area in tandem with its adjacent outpatient cancer center, which welcomed its first patients in August 2022.
Orange County’s only cancer specialty hospital will open in 2025
City of Hope nurses receive big thank you for their caring
Hospital building spree could turn Irvine into nation’s next big health brand
City of Hope Orange County gets $25 million gift from Julia and George Argyros
The outpatient center has so far served thousands of patients, Walker said, many of whom had to travel a long way to City of Hope’s Duarte campus to receive treatment. The new hospital, right next to that outpatient center, will be City of Hope’s second comprehensive cancer center in California.
“When you’re feeling sick, that’s not how you want to be spending your time,” she said. “The demand is bigger than what we’ve expected it to be.”
Yasmine Contreras, a 28-year-old construction crew member who lost her cousin to cancer in December, said her family’s story is unfortunately not a success story, but City of Hope always gave them a “fighting chance and hope when other places were ready to give up.”
“Being able to take part in this and create an impact on Orange County is a way for me to give back,” Contreras said. “I didn’t know I wanted to work in construction, but I guess City of Hope was just meant to be. It’s something I’ve come to love a lot more than I thought.”
The new facility will be culturally sensitive, said physician-in-chief Edward Kim, to serve the diverse communities in Orange County. A part of that was recruiting an integrated medicine specialist.
“When I was very young, my mom would say to me, ‘You have to study the herbs, you have to drink ginseng tea,’” Kim said with a laugh. “And I believe that you have to have a balance of certain medications and techniques that are Western ones (and) that are Eastern. Each culture has their own feelings about medicine and medical care.”
Among the speakers at the event was Mark DeSantis, a Chapman University finance professor, who said his life “changed with a sneeze” the morning of Nov. 2, 2021. DeSantis, who was already dealing with back pain, said the sneeze led to his vertebrae bursting and had to undergo emergency back surgery.
It was at the hospital where he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.
“Cancer. Everything changes when you hear that word,” he said. “Will I be able to run again? How will this impact my wife? What treatments would I need? And the one that I was too scared to ask — am I going to die?”
DeSantis, who received care at City of Hope in both Newport Beach and Duarte — and now at the cancer outpatient center in Irvine — said it’s difficult to describe the sense of comfort he gets knowing that all the care he’s ever going to need is so close to home.
“I can actually see the hospital from my third-floor patio,” said DeSantis, a Great Park resident. “I could see it while I have my morning coffee. When I get my treatment here on the fifth floor, when I look out, I can almost see my house. It feels like I’m at home when I’m receiving my care.”