New cancer center represents a Four Corners family's tradition of serving the region
FARMINGTON — Dr. Jeff Neidhart and his wife, Griselda Neidhart had a vision for creating the Four Corners Cancer Center/San Juan Oncology Associates.
They saw the opportunities offered by a vacant building at 2325 E. 30th Street in Farmington for Dr. Jeff Neidhart’s associates, Dr. Ankit Anand and Dr. Sardar Zakariya Imam, and the patients they treat.
The doctors and their staff operated as San Juan Oncology Associates while on the campus of San Juan Regional Medical Center at 735 West Animas Street, but they decided the limited space wasn’t enough to provide the care and special attention cancer patients need.
They found the space they sought in a building that is significant in Farmington’s economic history, the former office of Mesa Airlines, Inc. It had been vacant recently after a medical facility closed. Part of that busy street has become a hub for medical care practitioners.
So, in 2020, the Mesa Airlines building changed hands and once again became a medical practice.
While the features and floorspace the building offered — almost 18,000 square feet — was more than adequate, the level of remodeling that was needed to turn it into a cancer center would have been daunting to many.
But that additional space was needed due to the growth of the practice’s Clinical Research Center.
Four Corners Cancer Center has participated in a collaborative network of clinical research centers throughout the nation and internationally, and offers both standard treatments and what they feel are the newest and most promising experimental treatments available through clinical trials.
A building that symbolized economic growth
The purchase of the building on East 30th Street, however, wasn’t something Dr. Neidhart and Griselda initially considered. The building has a history of being part of the continuing growth of the community.
According to the Mesa Airlines website, the building was built in the mid-1980s by Larry and Janie Risley, who owned Mesa Airlines. The facility offered training to those seeking to fly the skies above and beyond San Juan County. When Mesa Airlines moved its corporate offices to Phoenix, San Juan Regional Medical Center used the facility for satellite offices to meet the ever-growing needs for healthcare in our community and the surrounding areas.
“But we thought the building, which was on the east side of town, and the location, building and parking were good,” Dr. Neidhart said. “There are healthcare offices across the street, and we thought we could help make it the center of healthcare in Farmington.”
The Neidharts decided to purchase the building, and the renovation process began in January.
They said the comfort of the patients has been, and will continue to be, a priority for the healthcare professionals who provide that care, and the redesign of the building focused on the patients.
Griselda, who has an MBA and is the chief operating officer of the partnership, oversaw much of the remodel, ensuring that the colors used on walls, countertops and furnishings were soothing.
Wood flooring replaced much of the carpeting and bathrooms were updated. A comfortable reception area includes plants and art. Beautiful windows highlight much of the building. Offices were enlarged, a meeting room was added, and a laboratory and pharmacy — important for patient care — were created.
With the growth of the Clinical Research Center’s partnership with researchers, additional space was required for that team’s research professionals.
“We also wanted a patio the patients could enjoy, and there are windows everywhere, that patients can look out and have a pleasant view,” Griselda said.
After resolving some concerns about the patio, Griselda and Dr. Neidhart moved forward with a patio area that blended the concrete of the patio with the grass, trees, and multiple flowering plants the area offered. In addition, the patio area gives access to the rear of the building, providing safety and shelter for patients who arrive for treatment during inclement weather.
“When we entertained the idea of a new location to expand San Juan Oncology Associates,” Griselda said, “we both had a clear idea of what we needed. We wanted to maximize the services we provide for our patients and the community.”
The remodel began in January of this year and was completed by mid-June. “We used local contractors and supported our local economy, which was important to us,” Dr. Neidhart said.
“This was no longer an idea, but our dream coming into reality,” Griselda added. “We are now Four Corners Cancer Center/San Juan Oncology Associates. Change always takes courage, consistency and integrity, but we definitely enjoyed the journey with happiness and humor.”
Traditions span two generations
Family and sharing what they love is part of why Dr. Neidhart said he became an oncologist. His dad, Dr. Jim Neidhart, moved to Farmington in 1995, when he decided Farmington would be a good place to continue his practice.
The elder Dr. Neidhart was the director of the University of New Mexico Cancer Research and Cancer Center, vice president of Medical Oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and a professor of the Ohio State University Cancer Center before making Farmington his home.
Dr. Jim Neidhart had traveled to Farmington for several years, way before the beauty of the Riverwalk alongside the San Juan River was created. The level of community support the residents of Farmington and San Juan County gave to the San Juan Regional Cancer Center was too strong to resist, he said.
Dr. Jim Neidhart and his wife, Sue, who was the head of the marketing department at the University of New Mexico, made the move and never looked back.
Dr. Jim Neidhart retired in 2013 after 19 years of service in Farmington and almost 50 years of oncology/hematology practice. He founded the Clinical Research Program and was — and continues to be — a respected and frequently recognized leader among the country’s oncologists.
Dr. Jeff Neidhart received his undergraduate education from Ohio State University and the University of New Mexico. He received his M.D. degree from UNM in 1995 and did a three-year residency at Ohio State University. He also completed a three-year fellowship program specializing in oncology and hematology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, including a year of laboratory work in molecular/genetic research.
A family business
Dr. Jeff Neidhart came to Farmington in 2002, when his dad invited him to be part of the practice at San Juan Regional Medical Center’s Cancer Center.
The decision to join the practice with his dad was an easy one, Dr. Jeff Neidhart said. In addition to being able to work alongside his father and share their mutual passion for cancer patients, Dr. Jeff Neidhart had friends who were also physicians in Farmington.
“Ron Bliss and Joe Pope went to UNM, and decided to come back to Farmington to practice,” he said. “That really impressed me.”
Dr. Bliss and Dr. Pope are partners at Piñon Hills Family Practice. That practice is on the opposite side of E. 30th Street from the new cancer center.
When Dr. Jeff Neidhart began looking at medicine as a career, his dad wasn’t surprised — and said he was also not surprised when his son wanted to join him in the cancer center.
“Once he headed down the medical path at UNM, he seemed to be leaning that way,” Dr. Jim Neidhart said. “Then, he went to Oklahoma State University for residency, which is what I did, and I was on the faculty there.”
“He then went to Alabama, where he served under a mentor and good friend, Al Lobugio, for laboratory research and fellowship,” Dr. Jim Neidhart said. “I’ve heard Jeff’s discussions with patients, and I think he is compassionate and has empathy, which is probably the most important quality for any doctor. He is knowledgeable and is able to use that knowledge well.”
Dr. Jim Neidhart was supportive when his son decided to make the move to the 30th Street facility, he said.
“More space has been needed for a while, and the financial considerations were such that a move made sense,” Dr. Jim Neidhart said. “Jeff has always been willing to take chances and likes to develop new things.”
While ensuring the patient’s comfort while going through treatment will always be a priority for Four Corners Cancer Center, Dr. Jeff and Griselda Neidhart said they know patient care isn’t just about soothing and comfortable physical surroundings.
They know it is the human touch that is the most critical in cancer treatment care.
“We have a wonderful staff,” Dr. Jeff Neidhart said. “Dr. Anand and Dr. Imam are staying on with us, and they and the rest of the staff have been involved in the remodel. I told our staff that our patients are our 'industry.' We serve and take care of our patients and help them get through their treatment.”
“We have a good reputation at San Juan Oncology Associates and the staff has helped maintain that reputation,” he added.
Janet Wood, who lives in Bloomfield, lost her husband, Ed, to cancer in October 2018.
“I have nothing but good things to say about the Cancer Center,” Wood said. “When Ed was diagnosed, everyone said we needed to go to Phoenix for his treatment, because he would get better care there. We both felt like we should stay here. And Dr. Jeff was very, very nice.”
But it wasn’t just Dr. Jeff Neidhart who provided that good care, Wood said. “When Ed passed, Dr. Imam had taken over Ed’s care. And before Ed passed, Dr. Imam visited Ed, to tell him goodbye, and you don’t always find that in doctors. He was very patient with us, and he was so good and so kind and always taking time to answer our questions. We had very good care with the Cancer Center.”
“Rosemarie (Mestas) and Jessica (Barnes) were also good to us,” Wood added. “And I remember calling Dr. (Jeff) Neidhart on Christmas Day once. I could hear his family in the background, but he never acted like we bothered him. He was very gracious.”
“I have nothing but praise (for the Cancer Center staff),” Wood said. “They gave Ed the best care, and I think Dr. Imam is just precious.”
The research component
Rosemarie Mestas has worked for both Doctors Neidhart and is grateful for the support, guidance, and countless opportunities the two doctors have given her.
“I have a soft spot for Dr. Jim,” Mestas admitted. “He believed in me enough to put me in the post I’m in (research administrator). Dr. Jim made me believe in myself and Dr. Jeff has supported me, too.”
When asked what the differences are between the two doctors, Mestas was reluctant to compare them.
“They are both intelligent, they both have good hearts, and they both love their patents,” Mestas said, adding, “but personality wise, Dr. Jim is more outgoing, and Dr. Jeff is a little more reserved.”
The Research Administrator position was something Mestas wanted, although her knowledge of research was limited at the time.
“Dr. Jim got me trained,” Mestas said, “and I fell in love with research. It has made me feel like I am part of something bigger.”
Mestas is one of only a few researchers from smaller healthcare facilities who are currently working on the development of a drug that, she said, “could save lives. That partnership wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Dr. Jeff.”
“Working with both Dr. Jim and Dr. Jeff has been the best of both worlds,” Mestas said. “They are equally smart, and I see the dynamic between them. When you put both of those heads together, you almost have perfection.”
Farmington chosen over Durango
While Dr. Neidhart was invited to bring a second cancer center in Durango, he felt he could better serve all of the Four Corners with the facility in Farmington. And while the remodel has taken time and lots of effort, he is happy with the result.
“I have no regrets,” he said about the project. “We anticipate having three more doctors in our new location that will also serve Durango and Cortez, before the end of this year.”
On the SJOA website, Dr. Jeff Neidhart stated that, “The San Juan Regional Medical Center has led the community-wide effort to establish the electronic medical system linking health care providers throughout our area for the benefit of patients and providers alike. This successful process distinguishes our medical center as one of the relatively few in the country that have yet tamed the medical information highway.”
Laura Werbner of San Juan Regional’s Public Relations Department said in an email that the hospital is evaluating its options as far as future plans for the building on West Animas Street.
“I will miss the Radiation Oncology (staff at San Juan Regional) and I’ll miss not being right next door to them and being on the (hospital) campus to visit patients,” Dr. Neidhart said. “But I’m proud that we’ve been able to repurpose a beautiful building in Farmington.”
While staff and contractors and local businesses have helped make the building beautiful, practical and with the comfort of the patients in mind, Rosemarie Mestas said it wouldn’t have come together without Griselda.
“That whole new building would not have happened without Griselda,” Mestas said. “The building is all her design and she put in a lot of work and a lot of long hours.”