Saint Marys Expects Final Cancer Center Approval

June 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Final regulatory approval is expected within two months that would clear the way for Saint Mary’s Medical Center to begin work on its new $39.7 million cancer treatment center.

The Alliance for Health’s Certificate of Need Evaluation Board this month endorsed Saint Mary’s proposal for the Richard J. Lacks Sr. Cancer Center. The hospital next needs to obtain a Certificate of Need from the Michigan Department of Community Health to proceed with the project.

Saint Mary’s CEO Philip McCorkle expects the state to issue the CON by mid-June. The hospital hopes to begin construction in a year, after it razes the McAuley building along Cherry Street this fall, and have the center open by 2004.

The five-level, 40-bed cancer center will consolidate many of the medical services cancer patients require, as well as offer services designed to support a person’s emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being. Double-sized patient rooms will enable friends and family members to stay with a patient, and the center’s roof will feature a garden, enclosed walkway and an indoor atrium where patients can relax.

“Cancer care is going to be different and delivered very differently than it is currently,” McCorkle said.

In evaluating the project, the Alliance CON Board did raise questions about some of the space Saint Mary’s plans to build. One floor will remain vacant and be used for storage and future expansion. The hospital’s plans also call for four new surgical rooms and space to house new CAT and PET scanners — all of which would require separate CON approval.

The Alliance, however, concluded that Saint Mary’s will eventually need the additional space and that it’s less expensive to build it now.

“Our feeling is it’d be sooner rather than later, so why not?” Alliance President Lody Zwarensteyn said. “If nothing else, it will be very expensive storage space.”

The project, being financed through donations, will not affect Saint Mary’s rates, McCorkle said. Saint Mary’s will see an additional $2.8 million in depreciation expenses for the first eight years, and then about $1.5 million annually in subsequent years.

McCorkle could not or would not say specifically what kind of operating-efficiency gains the new center would produce, focusing instead on the potential the Lacks Center holds for improving the quality of care.

“Our responsibility as health care providers is to provide the most cost effective, best quality of care as possible,” McCorkle said. “The potential for reduced cost is there.”

Saint Mary’s is funding the Lacks cancer center completely through contributions.

Donations to date include a $10 million challenge grant from the family of the late Richard J. Lacks Sr. Saint Mary’s will raise an additional $20 million in contributions. To date, Saint Mary’s has secured about $16.5 million in contributions beyond the Lacks family donation, and has some “major gifts” pending, McCorkle said.

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