City of Hope President Annette Walker Named One of OC's 2019 Most Influential

Monday, January 13, 2020

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Annette Walker wanted to make a difference in her community. Leading the charge in bringing a $1 billion, 190,000-square-foot comprehensive cancer center and hospital to Orange County seems to achieve that goal.

Walker, president of City of Hope Orange County, in February announced plans to open the campus in 2021 – with the hospital to follow in 2024 – on 11 acres of Irvine land purchased from developer FivePoint. The Irvine campus will provide treatment and diagnostic services, as well as access to the latest research and personalized support services for cancer patients and their families.

The center will be accompanied by a 12,000-square-foot City of Hope treatment facility, opening Jan. 27 in Newport Beach.

Both facilities are an offshoot of the acclaimed City of Hope cancer research center and hospital in Duarte and both will save Orange County cancer patients and their families many hours on the road, traveling back and forth for treatment.

“For people with cancer it’s a giant leap to say we have boots on the ground in Orange County,” said Walker, a Coto de Caza resident. “People I know – and even people I don’t know – approach me, thanking me for taking this job. It’s such a tangible change in the lives of people with cancer.”

The vision for City of Hope began with Emile Haddad, CEO and chairman of the board at FivePoint, inviting City of Hope to be part of the Great Park neighborhood. Since then, Haddad, along with  City of Hope President and CEO Robert Stone, and Lynn Jochim, co-chief operating officer of FivePoint, have worked closely with Walker to bring the project to the brink of fruition.

“It was a chance to build something from the ground up – it was as exciting as it was intimidating,” said Walker, who for her work was named to Modern Healthcare magazine’s list of top 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare for 2019. “I was reflecting on where I could make the biggest difference, and that was to bring City of Hope to the place I had lived for 40 years.

“City of Hope provided me with extraordinarily purposeful work,” she said. “I also feel the weight of it – of not losing that special quality, the way patients are treated and feel at City of Hope. I can’t fail on that – I just can’t fail on that. We are custodians of a legacy. We have a responsibility.”

Walker grew up in Pomona, attended Loyola Marymount University and moved with her husband to Orange County 40 years ago. The couple raised six children and now have 12 grandchildren. She served as president of strategy at Providence St. Joseph Health and chief executive of St. Joseph Health before joining City of Hope Orange County.

“If that job wasn’t in Orange County,” she said, “I probably wouldn’t have taken it.”

Much of the excitement over City of Hope’s pending arrival has to do with easier access to specialized cancer care. Walker said about 3,200 patients now travel an average of 88 miles round-trip to Duarte for treatment.

Donna McNutt is one of those patients, making the one-hour drive each way from her home in Laguna Beach.

Now 58, she was diagnosed about four years ago with stage 4 multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer. Already well into her own treatment, she said she’s excited about City of Hope opening a facility in Orange County to ease the journey of others.

“Every one of us multiple myeloma patients is different, but the average could be one visit a week” to the hospital, she said. “Minimally, I’m at City of Hope twice a month for my infusion and to see a doctor. I have never, from the day of being diagnosed, I have never been away from treatment.

“I am so grateful for people like Annette Walker for bringing that care closer to us,” said McNutt, who was one of eight patients riding on the City of Hope’s Rose Parade float in Pasadena on New Year’s Day. “It’s so incredible, the impact on Orange County, on so many of us patients – mothers, husbands, children.”

McNutt said she was fortunate to be in a situation in which her husband could drive her to treatment in Duarte whenever needed. And with her three children grown, there was no need to pay for child care during the day-long visits. But she said she realizes her circumstances are not universal.

“Many patients want to do that but they can’t,” she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t have gas money, a lot of people who don’t have babysitting money. There are so many patients in Orange County who don’t have the resources – those resources are gas, time, the things we don’t think of that we need on the journey to get to the specialized care at a ranking hospital. Coming right here is phenomenal for the community no matter what income level you are.”

Kristen Strauch, executive director of the American Cancer Society’s Southern California desert and coastal areas, said City of Hope will boost cancer care to patients who desperately need it.

“Orange County’s top cancer diagnoses are breast, colon and lung and that is just going to increase with the aging population in Orange County, as well as the diverse population in Orange County,” she said.

“There’s definitely a buzz and I think it’s great,” she said. “UCI is really doing a lot to expand its reach, too – we do a lot of funding cancer research there, and this will help leverage additional donor dollars. If you want to keep your donations local, here’s another way.”

Walker sees the arrival of City of Hope as a way to share scientific knowledge, as well.

“City of Hope is coming as an asset to the community, not as competition,” she said. “We want to work with anyone who wants to fight cancer.”

Source: Orange County Register

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