A new clinical cancer hospital for UNC inched closer to reality in mid-June when the N.C. House of Representatives voted to pay for it in part with money from health trust funds.
“There’s really enormous support, bipartisan support, for the cancer hospital project. There wasn’t anyone who spoke about it in less than glowing terms,” said Dr. Shelley Earp ’70 (MD), director of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, who attended the legislative committee meetings.
The House and Senate remained at odds over the scope of a construction package that includes other campuses in the UNC System. The Senate’s bill included the $180 million UNC cancer hospital and a $60 million heart and stroke center at East Carolina University. In addition, the House wants a $28 million building for Elizabeth City State University’s pharmacy program, a $35 million classroom building for UNC-Asheville’s health and wellness promotion major, and a $35 million genetics analysis center at UNC-Charlotte.
If the bill is approved in both chambers and by the governor, the earliest the hospital could open would be 2008. The hospital would be funded entirely by the state.
Senate Majority Leader Anthony Eden Rand ’61, D-Cumberland, who also serves on the board of directors for the UNC General Alumni Association, noted that nearly all North Carolina families have been touched by cancer in some way, making the hospital important to the entire state. The number of cancer patients in the state is predicted to double in the next 30 years.
In fiscal 2003, UNC Hospitals admitted more than 3,500 cancer patients and received more than 85,000 outpatient visits, according to administrators at UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The existing cancer research and treatment center is in UNC’s Gravely Building, which originally was a tuberculosis sanitarium. The building has been renovated several times and is overcrowded.
A new hospital “is essential,” said Dr. Beverly Mitchell, associate director of the cancer center. “The current 50-year-old building is totally inadequate.”
The proposed hospital would contain more than 300,000 square feet. The plans include a separate building to house physicians’ offices. Both buildings would be located on Manning Drive, and the Gravely Building would be torn down.
The hospital would offer more privacy and convenience for patients, who currently receive chemotherapy treatment in a large, open room with up to 21 other patients.