Originally created 05/23/01

Doctors commit to center bid



Augusta doctors are pledging an unprecedented level of cooperation in the community's bid to land a plum cancer center as part of Gov. Roy Barnes' $1 billion initiative.

Mr. Barnes is scheduled to visit Augusta today for a variety of events, including a meeting at Medical College of Georgia that will include representatives of a physician committee working on Augusta's bid.

Augusta is seeking one of three top-tier cancer centers envisioned in the Georgia Cancer Coalition initiative; one center has already been designated for Atlanta. Augusta leaders have been meeting in an informal group to formulate a pitch for one of the two remaining centers. So far, plans include seeking to raise $50 million for the project, which is also expected to attract around 35 eminent researchers. The centers would be expected at some point to achieve National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center status.

By studying the standards for those centers, none of which are in Georgia or South Carolina, and by meeting with physicians from all of Augusta's major hospitals, the physician committee was able to hammer out some consensus, said committee member and radiation oncologist Jerry Howington. The physician committee then presented it to leaders at MCG, Doctors Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital and University Hospital and got their tacit agreement for the proposal, Dr. Howington said. MCG President-designate Dr. Daniel W. Rahn also has endorsed it, Dr. Howington said.

"At least we'll be able to show the governor that the whole community is behind it," Dr. Howington said. That's been the goal of the whole effort, said Regent J. Timothy Shelnut, chairman of the ad hoc committee.

Among the physician ideas:

Creating an independent organization called The Augusta Comprehensive Cancer Center, with a board of directors drawn from area institutions and its own director, which will be responsible for coordinating and monitoring "cancer-related activities in Augusta;"

Creating a data management office to do community wide studies, establish protocols and coordinate patient tracking and the enrolling of patients in research studies.

Creating a centralized tumor registry;

Creating a community tissue bank;

Community-wide programs for education, prevention, and screening.

The group recognizes the need to strengthen cancer research at MCG, but clinical trials should also be open to all area patients, Dr. Howington said. While sharing some resources and working together to attract patients to Augusta, area doctors and hospitals would still compete for patients, Dr. Howington said. But the proposal would allow health care providers to work together as never before for the benefit of the community, Dr. Howington said.

"If we don't do it now, with this initiative that the governor is hanging like a carrot in front of us, we're missing a great opportunity," Dr. Howington said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.