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9/3/2008
Christiana Care plans northern expansion; Hospital looking at Concord Pike area - News Journal

Christiana Care plans northern expansion
Hospital looking at Concord Pike area
BY GARY HABER • THE NEWS JOURNAL • SEPTEMBER 3, 2008

Christiana Care Health System plans to build a new medical center in Brandywine Hundred that will include a satellite branch of its Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, hospital officials have confirmed.

Although the hospital has not selected a site, officials hope to open the center within three years.

Christiana Care officials denied the project is an attempt to blunt a possible incursion into Delaware by Fox Chase Cancer Center, the Northeast Philadelphia specialty cancer hospital that is considering Delaware as an expansion site.

Rather, Christiana Care officials say, the project is needed to address the medical needs of an aging population that lives north of Wilmington and across the border in Pennsylvania, in Delaware and Chester counties. Patients who live there may not want to make the drive to the Graham Center on Christiana Care's main campus in Stanton, hospital officials said.

"This is not because of Fox Chase," said Dr. Nicholas Petrelli, the Graham Center's medical director. "Cancer is just a small component of this."

Frank Hoke, a spokesman for Fox Chase Cancer Center, declined to comment.

A larger Christiana Care presence north of Wilmington has been under consideration for at least two years, Petrelli said. It is part of the hospital system's long-term strategy that also includes a $45 million addition to the Graham Center that will more than double its size, a $205 million renovation and expansion at Wilmington Hospital and a health care center in Smyrna that opened in December 2006.

Gary Ferguson, Christiana Care's chief financial officer, said a 100,000-square-foot building is being planned. They are looking for a 12-acre to 15-acre site near Concord Pike, "as close to Pennsylvania as we can get," he said.

"We don't have a definitive site yet," Ferguson said. "Nor do we have details of what we would put there."
The preference is for a new building, rather than retrofitting an existing one, "so you can design a facility for the services you would put there," Ferguson said.

No budget has yet been set for the project, he said.

In addition to cancer radiation services and, possibly, chemotherapy, officials are also considering offering family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and women's cardiology services at the site, he said.

Christiana Care already has two family medical offices north of Wilmington, in Brandywine Hundred and Claymont.

Part of the reason for a new building, Ferguson said, is Christiana Care's need to expand its satellite radiation oncology location at Carr and Silverside roads.

That location, which opened in 1999, saw 5,613 patient visits in the fiscal year ended June 30.

The announcement of plans for a Brandywine Hundred satellite branch of the Graham Center comes as the state's largest cancer program faces challenges from both north and south.

At the same time that Fox Chase is mulling the possibility of opening a facility somewhere in Delaware, Bayhealth Medical Center is also beefing up its cancer program.

Last month, Bayhealth announced it has joined the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Network, an affiliation that could result in some patients with more complex cancer cases going for treatment to Penn's Abramson Cancer Center rather than seeking treatment at the Graham Center.

Bayhealth also announced plans for a cancer research institute and is building an integrated cancer center as part of a $168 million expansion at Kent General Hospital in Dover.

Hospital building projects can have an impact on patients' wallets, because hospitals often seek to raise the fees they charge insurers and other managed-care providers to cover the cost of expansions, said Alwyn Cassil of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a Washington, D.C.-based health care policy group.

"There's having health care accessible and then there's overbuilding," Cassil said. "The question is whether there's sufficient demand."

Contact Gary Haber at 324-2878 or ghaber@delawareonline.com.

 

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