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Senate Likes Cancer Center; House May Be Tougher Fight

UNC Hospitals administrators hope the third time will be the charm for a bill that would fund the construction of a new cancer treatment and research hospital at the University.

The N.C. Senate voted 46-1 on May 18 to fund the $180 million North Carolina Cancer Hospital as well as a $60 million center at East Carolina University to treat cardiovascular diseases. This is the second time that the Senate approved the bill as it relates to UNC and the third time the N.C. General Assembly has considered it.

For construction to begin on the hospital, the bill needs the approval of the N.C. House. If it is approved during the current legislative session, the earliest the hospital could open would be 2008.

The hospital would be funded by the state, and the type of borrowing proposed does not need public approval.

Jim Black, co-speaker of the House, told The News & Observer that the bill as it stands now probably would not pass in the House because it does not include medical centers for UNC-Charlotte and UNC-Asheville.

“I’m just delighted we’ve got it this far, and I hope to carry it all the way home,” said Senate Majority Leader Anthony Eden Rand ’61, D-Cumberland, who also serves on the Board of Directors for the UNC General Alumni Association. Rand noted that nearly all North Carolina families have been touched by cancer in some way, making the hospital important to the entire state.

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 number of cancer patients in the state is predicted to double in the next 30 years.

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 be more than 300,000 square feet. The plans include a separate building to house physician’s offices. Both buildings would be located on Manning Drive, and the Gravely Building would be torn down.

The hospital also would offer more privacy and convenience for patients, who currently receive chemotherapy treatment in a large, open room with up to 21 other patients.

Mitchell said legislators probably would enter the bill again next year if it does not pass in the House.


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