By April A. Morris  

MAY 25, 2012 9:24 a.m. Comments (0)

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The Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System recently broke ground on a 10,000-square-foot cancer center – not in Spartanburg, but at the Village Hospital campus on Highway 14 in Greer.

The Gibbs Cancer Center opened in 1999 in Spartanburg and became affiliated with the M.D. Anderson Physicians Network in 2006. David Church, vice president for oncology and support services, said the center is expanding to the Greer area so patients will not have to travel as far for treatment. The expansion is part of the center’s master plan “to improve cancer treatment in that area,” he said. “Eighty to 85 percent of cancer care is given at a local center.”

Focusing on cancer treatment locally is a national trend as part of the nation’s emphasis on the “war on cancer,” Church said. With the advent of regional cancer centers, patients don’t have to leave home for treatment, he said.

The Gibbs Center’s affiliation with M.D. Anderson means the care is high-quality and vetted regularly by the internationally renowned physicians network, Church said. Gibbs also is a Community Clinical Oncology Program of the National Cancer Institute.

Spartanburg Regional is hardly alone in the building boom. Across the Upstate, other cancer care centers are busy with expansion plans.

Earlier this year, the Greenville Hospital System announced a merger with the Cancer Center of the Carolinas, which is expected to be completed in July. Dr. Larry Gluck, medical director of oncology programs at the Greenville Hospital System, said GHS will have the largest group of oncologists in the Upstate after the merger.

Greenville Hospital’s link with the University of South Carolina medical school provides a strong focus on research, Gluck said, including the Institute for Translational Oncology Research (ITOR), which is designed to translate research to patient care. The group’s fellowship-trained surgeons and new designation as a Cancer Center of the Carolinas’ National Cancer Institute (NCI) Community Clinical Oncology Program ensure patients a high level of sophistication, he said.

The Bon Secours St. Francis health system is also working to expand its cancer treatment capabilities by establishing a radiation therapy program with a linear accelerator, due to open in late 2013 or 2014. To house the accelerator within the required vault, the hospital is also applying to build a dedicated cancer center at its Millennium campus and add a new surgery robot.

This expansion is the answer for patients who want full cancer treatment services from a faith-based provider, said Dan Duggan, St. Francis’ chief operating officer. “Care is fragmented when you don’t have full service,” he said.

Nearly a decade ago, St. Francis determined a need for additional radiation treatment in the area, and the expansion of services in Greer is the response, Duggan said. In order to build the facility at the Millennium campus, St. Francis has applied for a state Certificate of Need, or CON, which is now under review. The CON review process is governed by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and driven by the SC Health Plan, which is revised every two years. A 24-member panel reviews applications from all healthcare providers – from hospitals and surgical centers to substance abuse facilities and nursing homes – that wish to establish a service or expand.

The CON system reduces healthcare costs and helps prevent duplicate services, diminishing the potential for splintered care and specialty “boutique” hospitals and outpatient service centers for diagnostic imaging, ambulatory surgery and radiation therapy, the DHEC website said.

The Gibbs expansion “was held up for several years due to an appeal,” said Beverly Brandt, bureau chief of DHEC’s Bureau of Health Facilities and Services Development. “The case settled and we have been kept informed of the progress of this project since the CON was issued in 2011.”

Asked whether the Upstate expansion is due to local competition or a move to expand patient choice, Brandt said, “The SC Health Plan does not specifically address competition or treatment options, but does address improved accessibility and duplication of services.”

She said population growth, cancer rates and “utilization of existing services are important factors in demonstrating need. In making a decision, we evaluate accessibility to services and how this balances with duplication of existing services within a service area.”

Gluck said GHS has provided comprehensive cancer treatment at Greer Memorial Hospital since 2008, and the expansions may be due to each hospital’s plans rather than a major need for more cancer treatment in the area.

Duggan said the expansions may also be driven by patient preference and the new emphasis on choice. “We totally believe in patient choice,” he said.

 

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