St. Peter’s Health Announces Affiliation with Huntsman Cancer Institute

April 12, 2021

New partnership brings world-class cancer care, top specialists and innovative treatments to Helena

HELENA, MONTANA AND SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH –  Today St. Peter's Health announced the decision to affiliate with Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) and bring a higher level of cancer care to the Helena community. The affiliation with HCI enables patients undergoing cancer and hematology care at St. Peter's Health in Helena, Montana to access a broader variety of treatment options along with top cancer experts at HCI, including those who specialize in rare and complex cancers. Building on the strength of St. Peter’s existing affiliation with University of Utah Health, the oncology affiliation will also expedite care for St. Peter's Health patients requiring sophisticated procedures at HCI and ensure seamless coordination of their ongoing care when they return to the Helena area.  

HCI is the only National Cancer Institute Designated (NCI) Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. It is ranked among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report and receives patient satisfaction ratings in the top 1% nationwide.

 "We share a vision with Huntsman Cancer Institute to strengthen and expand the availability of cancer care in our local community, so patients can receive more advanced treatments locally and have fewer expenses or delays because of the need to travel to a major city,” said St. Peter's Health CEO Wade Johnson. "This is an incredible opportunity to leverage technology and our existing affiliation with University of Utah Health to connect people here with some of the nation’s top oncology and hematology specialists. The expertise and support that a renowned cancer program like HCI can provide a small community like Helena is a significant advancement in our ability to provide gold standard oncology care."

 The main HCI campus is in Salt Lake City, and with the addition of St. Peter’s Health, HCI now has six affiliate cancer centers across the Mountain West region. All affiliates are independent, not-for-profit health systems.

"We are honored to work with St. Peter's Health in service of cancer patients in Montana," said Don Milligan, MBA, executive director of the HCI Hospital. "Our organizations share a commitment to enhance the standard of care for patients and their families. We look forward to working with the teams at St. Peter's Health to bring world-class cancer expertise, along with their unique insights and experience, to further improve the standard of cancer care in Montana."

Inpatient Senior Nursing Director Kari Koehler, MSN, RN started the St. Peter's Health Breast Cancer Nurse Navigation Program in 2009. She has since overseen the Cancer Treatment Center and sees tremendous benefit in the affiliation. “Our nurses, physicians and clinical staff will have direct access to education and training opportunities provided by HCI, and they can present patient care plans in expert forums for evaluation and recommendation on best treatment options. St. Peter’s physicians will still have the autonomy to make referrals to other hospitals or health systems if they deem that most appropriate, but having this built-in partnership always available will really enhance their ability to provide top-notch cancer care.”

According to Johnson, affiliating with other health systems to expand the care that’s available in Helena is a strategic move to maintain independence and local decision-making and better meet the needs of the community. “Small, rural health systems like St. Peter’s face numerous challenges in today’s health care environment and simply don’t have the resources or patient volumes to offer as many specialty and sub-specialty services locally as might be desired. Partnering with reputable, like-minded health systems around specific specialties brings a higher level of care to our community without the need to become part of a larger health system.”

Learn more about the HCI affiliation, including answers to frequently asked questions here 

Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the Cancer Treatment Center (CTC)

Are you accepting new patients?

Yes. Our Cancer Treatment Center (CTC) is fully operational and providing comprehensive cancer care including medical oncology, hematology and radiation oncology.

Who is providing this patient care?

In addition to Dr. Andrew Cupino, who is board certified in radiation oncology, we are actively recruiting new permanent oncologists to join our CTC. In the meantime, we have locum tenens oncologists providing care alongside our team of nurse navigators, nurses, technicians and office staff.

What are locum tenens physicians and how long should we expect them to stay at St. Peter’s?

Locum tenens are fully licensed physicians who choose to travel and practice for a period of time in various locations. Locum tenens are common in most hospitals and health systems. They determine the length of their assignments and often pick locations based on their passion for a certain geography, proximity to family, or opportunities that are unique to a specific program. We’re fortunate that Helena and St. Peter’s have always been attractive to locum tenens physicians when we need them to cover vacancies, vacations or help start new services.

I’ve heard that patients don’t see the same locum tenens physician more than once. Is that correct?

The locum tenens physicians determine how long they want to practice in any location. Some choose to stay for months at a time, and others for just a week. Regardless, they all are highly skilled and carefully chart their patient interactions for anyone else providing care to the patient in the future. Like our permanent medical staff, we have a rigorous screening and interview process in place to make sure these physicians are a good fit for St. Peter’s and our community.

How is the CTC staff faring working with the locum tenens physicians?

While all transitions are challenging, our CTC team is doing well overall.  We continue to be impressed by their unwavering focus on caring for patients. St. Peter’s is surrounding them with the physician, administrative and other support they need to continue to provide top-notch care to patients in Helena and the surrounding communities.

When will the CTC have permanent physicians?

We are actively recruiting for board certified oncologists to join our CTC. The affiliation with HCI will help St. Peter’s recruit and retain all staff, including physicians, nurses, technicians and others. Additionally, Dr. Andrew Cupino, who is board certified in radiation oncology, has been a full-time member of the St. Peter’s Cancer Treatment Center since 2012.

Who is involved in planning and designing the future of cancer care at St. Peter’s?

This is a highly collaborative process that involves many people. Administration and CTC leadership are working closely with providers, staff, and members of the organization’s leadership team and board of directors. A CTC Steering Committee and “unified path forward” initiative were established to engage multiple perspectives, including frontline staff, in helping to design the future of our cancer care program. Together, these representatives are identifying improvements to the physical space, optimizing processes and workflows, and reimagining how cancer care can be delivered at St. Peter’s. In the coming months, you will see many positive changes begin to take place as a result of the great work.

Contact us with questions or concerns

If you are a patient who has specific questions regarding care, please: 

  • Call the Cancer Treatment Center (CTC) at 444-2381 or Patient Advocacy at 447-2566. 

If you are a member of the community who have questions or concerns about these CTC changes please:

  • Submit feedback to the St. Peter’s Health Board and Administration at or by calling 444-2100 (option 1) or 444-2101.