Originally created 02/21/01

Hospital pledges funding



Augusta leaders are vowing to ante up $50 million to convince Gov. Roy Barnes that the community is seriously committed to landing a new cancer center.

Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics is leading an effort to inventory cancer treatment resources within the community, said J. Timothy Shelnut, a board member of operating company MCG Health Inc. and the chairman of the ad hoc committee pursuing the cancer center. The initiative will have to be a true community effort, and University Hospital is also interested in pursuing the effort, Mr. Shelnut said.

"University Hospital and other hospitals will play a very big role," he said.

The money commitment will "send the governor a positive message that we want that cancer center here," Mr. Shelnut said, adding that MCG Foundation has offered to spearhead the fund-raising charge.

Savannah has already pledged to find a similar amount in its effort to land one of the three cancer centers of excellence envisioned in Mr. Barnes' $800 million initiative, known as the Georgia Cancer Coalition, Mr. Shelnut said. One of the centers is already designated for Grady Health System, and there will be another decision announced toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year, said Barnes spokeswoman, Joselyn Butler. Twelve regional treatment centers and a number of community hospitals also will be part of the network, Ms. Butler said.

"There will be a number of entities participating in a number of different ways," she said.

Exactly what Mr. Barnes and the coalition are looking for is unclear now, said MCG Health President and CEO Don Snell. But Augusta should be able to make a strong case based on how much cancer treatment is already going on between University and MCG and to a lesser extent at Doctors Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital, which has a hospice and home health care program, Mr. Snell said.

The idea of creating a regional cancer center was kicked around by leaders from the four Augusta hospitals in 1999 during meetings of a joint study committee on the future of MCG and health care in Augusta.

Cancer "is one area where the four participants could come together with a minimum of overlap," Mr. Snell said.

"It would certainly be a boost to our community economically if we wind up with one of these centers, and more importantly it could have a major impact on cancer patients that we treat, not only here in Augusta but statewide," said J. Larry Read, the chief executive officer of University Health Care Foundation.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213.