U-M, Metro Share Costs Of Venture

June 16, 2008
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WYOMING — The University of Michigan Health System is bearing half the cost of the linear accelerator at the Cancer Center at Metro Health Village under a joint venture agreement announced last week.

The U-M system also will hire and pay the salary for a radiation oncologist to oversee the program here and join the University of Michigan Medical School faculty, said Dr. Theodore S. Lawrence, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology. He said he plans to conduct a nationwide search to fill the post.

The center, opening for chemotherapy patients June 30 and for radiation therapy in the fall, is located in the Wyoming health services development anchored by the Metro Health hospital that opened last fall. It will join the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center's Radiation Oncology Network, which provides the university's medical expertise to seven other sites in Michigan.

"We have only joint venture relationships with other groups," Lawrence said. "By joint venture, it means that the U-M owns a portion of it and the local hospital owns a portion of it. In this case, it's 50-50, although it's not that way for all of our ventures. And the reason we like that approach is that it makes it like a marriage. That way, we both have invested our money, to some extent, but really, our efforts in making it work."

Metro Health Vice President of Growth Strategies Brian Jepson said the two will form a new nonprofit corporation to own the linear accelerator. According to its application for Certificate of Need approval, Metro Health intended to lease the machine for a total of $4.2 million over four and half years, but Jepson said the joint venture may choose to exercise a purchase option. He said the choice of machine, a Varian Clinac, was made in conjunction with U-M.

While the U-M Health System will employ the radiation oncologist to run the program, Jepson said Metro Health will hire the rest of the staff, including radiation therapists, lab technologists, dosimetrists, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, patient care coordinators, social workers, physicists, medical records personnel and receptionists.

He said any margin produced by the radiation operation would be shared by the two, but re-invested into the cancer center. The CON application estimated revenue over expenses of 5.4 percent, or $144,381, in the first year of operation.

"With cancer care, there's always new technology out there, new ways of treating cancer, and so we thought this model made sense because sometimes within hospitals there's a lot of different needs vying for the same pot of money.

"What makes this unique is that the profits that are generated through this joint venture can be dedicated to cancer, and there won't be other service lines fighting for those dollars," Jepson said.

He said that Saint Mary's Health Care, which opened the Lacks Cancer Center in 2005, may be involved in other areas, such as sharing its library and recruiting oncology specialists.

Lawrence said the radiation oncologist will participate, via teleconferencing, in weekly case reviews with subspecialists at the U-M hospital in Ann Arbor. Also, local patients will be eligible to participate in U-M's clinical trials.

Clinical trials provide a controlled method for the use of novel treatment methods in appropriate cases, he said. "Clinical trials are a great thing to be able to offer to patients," Lawrence added.

"Our new and existing patients will now have access to the highest quality of cancer care available while our physician community can collaborate with some of the best minds in cancer treatment and research today," said Dr. Michael Zakem of Cancer and Hematology Centers of Western Michigan, who will be providing chemotherapy at the center. Cancer and Hematology Centers is the largest infusion practice in the state.

"Combine this with the convenience of our state-of-the-art cancer center, and we have a streamlined outpatient experience that is truly patient-centric," Zakem said.

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