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M.D. Anderson Partners With Banner Health For New Phoenix-Area Cancer Hospital

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, May 7, 2009

The number of cancer deaths and diagnoses in Arizona may have leveled in recent years, but that isn't stopping Banner Health from partnering with Houston's M.D. Anderson to build a $90 million cancer center 30 miles southeast of Phoenix.

When finished in 2011, the M.D. Anderson Banner Cancer Center will include a new 120,000 square foot cancer outpatient facility on the campus of Banner's two year old Gateway Medical Center in Gilbert, which also will house 76 inpatient beds dedicated for cancer care.

Banner's major expansion into the state's cancer care sector follows the opening of Cancer Treatment Centers of America's fourth cancer center, this one in Goodyear, 20 miles east of Phoenix in late 2007. The Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson 100 miles away now also treats a significant number of the state's cancer patients and is the state's only facility designated as a comprehensive cancer center by the National Cancer Institute. It has plans to open a major outpatient facility in Phoenix within two years.

At least a half dozen other major hospitals, including the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, now treat the region's estimated 19,000 cancer patients diagnosed annually and they will have to fight to remain competitive, Arizona hospital officials say.

The Phoenix region's rapid pace of growth as well as migration of older populations to warmer sunnier climates will also keep cancer an important part of health care services.

But officials for Banner and M.D. Anderson say they are confident the need is great for M.D. Anderson's brand of cancer excellence. "We decided we were bringing to the community an approach and style and clinical expertise in treating cancer, which is something that doesn't exist in the community today," says Peter Fine, Banner Health's President and CEO.

M.D. Anderson's "volume, approaches, and science are unmatched," he says.

William Murphy, MD., chairman of M.D. Anderson Physicians Network and a diagnostic radiologist, says Banner invited the amalgamation after extensive discussions. "What we intend to do is bring a research-based, hard science, approach to the patient through a multi-disciplinary system of care. All the best minds wil make sure the diagnosis is the most precise that it can be t adjust the treatment plan to be the most modern they can have the day they come in the door."

It remains to be seen how much of M.D. Anderson's expertise will emerge in Gilbert. Two officials for competing hospitals express skepticism that the cancer powerhouse ranked number 1 by U.S. News and World Report will do much more than put its name on the door of the Gilbert facility, much less move staff to Arizona. Whether Phoenix area patients will benefit from clinical trials based in Houston, or how referral networks will be arranged remain to be seen, they say.

Others said cancer care and health care in general can only improve with the new hospital.

"Arizona is the second fastest growing state in the country, and the Banner Health collaboration with M.D. Anderson continues to build our state's growing reputation as a health care center," says Bridget O'Gara, spokeswoman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.

But O'Gara acknowledges that the arrangement could bring more competition to cancer care.

Banner Health, which has 22 hospitals in seven states, will use money from a $1 billion bond to finance the project. Fine says he realizes many hospitals are struggling financially, but says "We're a pretty healthy organization. But this is the largest project on our books for a five year period of time," he says.

Murphy and Fine expect to staff the new facility with a combination of physicians who will move or visit from Houston, staff physicians now at Banner facilities and physicians practicing in the community. They declined to say what types of cancer the facility will specialize in.

Thomas Brown, M.D. chief operating officer at the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona, was publically supportive of Banner's collaboration with M.D. Anderson, although he acknowledges that he had been negotiating with Banner for such an opportunity for a long time. According to press reports, talks broke down over cost issues.

"Fighting cancer requires all of the expertise that can be brought to bear… from academic mindset based on research and evidence based medicine," he says.

The Houston cancer center has a similar arrangement in Orlando, but this is its first reach west of Houston.

The 2001-2005 data from the National Cancer Institute show a 3% decline in Arizona statewide for incidence of all site cancers, with the biggest drops in melanoma, leukemia, breast, cervix, colon, stomach, ovary and lung. Increases were seen in thyroid, liver and bile duct cancers.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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