Brewer News

State OKs cancer center for EMMC – Now $41M facility in Brewer faces financing challenges

7.21.2006 – Eastern Maine Medical Center’s plans for a $41 million cancer center in Brewer cleared a major hurdle this week when the project won state approval.

But the approval did not come without conditions, the most notable of which could pose a significant financing challenge for the project.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Human Services issued the Bangor-based hospital the much anticipated “certificate of need,” which is required before a hospital can expand its facilities.

The approval, welcomed Thursday by hospital officials, will allow EMMC to relocate its CancerCare of Maine unit and expand it at a new location near Eastern Maine Healthcare System’s corporate offices in Brewer.

“The most exciting thing about this is what it will do for patients,” said Greg Fecteau, executive director of CancerCare of Maine, which has seen a dramatic rise in cancer patients seeking treatment in recent years.

Before the new center can become a reality, however, hospital officials must revisit how to finance it, with state officials limiting how much money can be borrowed to build the Brewer facility.

The hospital had planned to borrow 80 percent of the money for the project, according to hospital spokeswoman Jill McDonald. DHHS officials, however, finding the hospital had “adequate and available” assets on hand, will allow it to borrow only 40 percent of the money.

As a result, the state’s stipulation, described by hospital officials as “challenging and unprecedented,” could require it to come up with an additional $16 million from equity and fundraising, based on current estimates.

“We’re going to look at it very carefully,” said McDonald, adding the project’s financing will be part of the hospital’s planning process for the new facility.

A new cancer center is sorely needed in the area, said Fecteau, pointing to a 66 percent increase in patient load since 1997. During that time, the Bangor facility had a 54 percent increase in the number of visits. The center serves about 250 patients a day, Fecteau said.

Hospital officials attribute the increase to patients living longer – in part because of better treatment options – rather than an increase in cancer diagnoses in the area.

The new 60,000-square-foot Brewer facility will provide improved patient privacy and confidentiality, said hospital officials, as well as more space for patient care, education, social worker consultation and nutritional services.

Right now, there are 18 chemotherapy stations and 16 exam rooms at the Bangor facility. The new Brewer center is slated to have 35 chemotherapy stations and 24 exam rooms.

7.21.2006 – Hospital officials said the cancer center’s move to the Brewer campus, located near the interchange with Interstate 395 on Outer Wilson Street, also will provide easier access to the facility for patients.

The building set to house the cancer center also will house a genetics laboratory, under the current plan. Construction could begin as early as March of next year, Fecteau said.

A copyright article from the Bangor Daily News, Friday, July 21, 2006.