Gray skies overhead could not dampen the celebratory mood on the grounds of Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) on the afternoon of October 21, where a dedication ceremony marked the grand opening of Smilow Cancer Hospital—a moment of triumph for Yale University, the School of Medicine, and YNHH.

“It is a day of home,” said Yale President Richard C. Levin. “It is a day of inspiration, a day that we've all waited for for many years, and it will allow this hospital and this medical school to take their places among the leaders in the world in the care and treatment of cancer.” The ceremony, held in an outdoor plaza at the foot of the new 14-story building, was attended by hundreds of faculty, staff, and donors, and featured a performance by the Trinity Boys Choir and a lineup of speakers including Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell; Levin; medical school Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D.; Marna P. Borgstrom, M.P.H., CEO and president of YNHH; Bonnie Kaplan Tymniak, a lymphoma survivor; and the hospital’s namesake and major donor, Joel E. Smilow.

“Yale University, Yale School of Medicine, and Yale-New Haven Hospital together have a long tradition of excellence in cancer care,” Alpern said. “The first chemotherapy was given by Yale physicians in 1942 at what was then called New Haven Hospital, ushering in the age in which we could treat and cure patients. There’s a new age coming with much better treatments, and we now have the Smilow Cancer Hospital, and for that we are incredibly grateful to Joan and Joel Smilow, and to many other donors. We’ll be able to do state-of-the-art research, and we will be educating, in this hospital, the next generation of clinicians and researchers.”

Borgstrom’s remarks opened the afternoon's proceedings. “Like most great achievements,” she said, “this point represents the intersection of ideas and people. More than six years ago, we knew that we had to increase Yale-New Haven Hospital’s patient care capacity. It took a lot of time, and it took a lot of hard work on the part of many people to make this idea a reality.”

With his wife, Joan, Smilow, a member of the Yale College Class of 1954 and the former CEO, chairman, and president of Playtex, has given generously to his alma mater for decades. In the fall of 2007, Smilow gave a transformational gift that allowed construction of the long-planned cancer hospital to move ahead.

“The one question that people have asked me the most in the last couple of years is, would I have done it if I had known what was going to happen in the country in the following two years?” Smilow said in his remarks at the grand opening. “I long ago learned that paper assets were not nearly as important as real assets that either you would personally enjoy, or that would benefit other people. The answer is yes.”

The Smilows’ philanthropy has endowed six coaching positions in Yale athletics and enabled the renovation of the old Lapham Field House, now called Smilow Field Center. Smilow also stewarded the major gifts component of Yale’s capital campaign in the 1990s and, more recently, helped to implement a $120 million gift from his class, the largest in Yale’s history. Smilow received the Yale Medal, the university’s highest honor, in 1993.

Smilow Cancer Hospital has been under construction since 2006. When it is fully complete in April 2010, the new facility will bring all of the inpatient and outpatient cancer services at Yale into one building, and it is expected to become the most comprehensive cancer care facility in New England.

The hospital was designed with an explicit commitment to personalized cancer care. A multi-specialty team of physicians and nurses is mobilized to treat each patient, and the teams are housed together in suites, dedicated to different forms of cancer, that facilitate collaboration among the various disciplines involved in cancer treatment.

These interdisciplinary teams will have easy access to conference rooms where they can view diagnostic-quality images on large screens and interact with local colleagues or, using telemedicine technology, with experts at distant sites.

“The opportunity for expanded patient services and improved multidisciplinary team care in Smilow Cancer Hospital will have profound implications for cancer patients,” said Professor of Medicine Thomas J. Lynch Jr., M.D., director of Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief at the new hospital. “Each patient will receive their cancer care from a team of specialized physicians who are experienced in treating their particular type of cancer. The new facility will make these interactions seamless for our patients.”

With 500,000 square feet of space, the hospital, which cost an estimated $467 million, boasts a rooftop garden with trees and fountains, and a lobby with saltwater aquariums.

Lynch sees the opening of the hospital as just one of several developments advancing cancer treatment and research at Yale. In the short term, the new hospital offers multidisciplinary team care and a much greater availability of clinical trials to patients.

But in the long term, coupled with the opening of the new Cancer Biology Institute at Yale’s West Campus, Lynch says, the Smilow Cancer Hospital will raise YNHH into the top echelon of the nation’s cancer research and care facilities.

“Yale’s always done wonderful basic science, and it’s always had wonderfully compassionate doctors. But it’s never put the whole package together for cancer,” Lynch says. The opening of Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven and the development of West Campus are “giving Yale the ability to put together a truly comprehensive program in cancer. The medical school and the hospital have come together in an unprecedented way to say that cancer really matters here—cancer is something that we’re going to use the resources of one of the world’s great universities to fight.”