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URMC plans $45 million cancer center expansion

In a radical departure from an ambitious Strong Memorial Hospital expansion plan, University of Rochester Medical Center Officials on Thursday announced a revised plan to add beds to the space-crunched facility.

URMC now plans to add three stories atop the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center while it reassesses a plan for a six-story tower at Strong Memorial Hospital as part of its $250 million PRISM project, URMC acting CEO Mark Taubman M.D.

Construction of the cancer center addition is expected to start in the first half of 2010, roughly a year earlier than officials had planned to start the more extensive hospital project. PRISM stands for Pediatric Replacement and Imaging Sciences Modernization project.

The new plan, which calls for an initial $45 million expenditure to expand the cancer center, does not mean URMC has scrapped plans for Strong Memorial’s expansion or even put the hospital expansion on hold, Taubman said.

“We still see adding pediatric beds and expanding medical imaging as priorities,” said Taubman, naming two areas the medical center planned to add to and upgrade with the PRISM project.

A chief reason for PRISM—adding to Strong’s heavily overburdened medical-surgical bed count—is still much on the minds of URMC planners, Taubman said. The hospital’s occupancy rate continues to hover in the 100 percent range.

Lack of inpatient beds creates logjams in the emergency department, which cannot move admitted patients to hospital floors quickly enough. But how much further hospital expansion might occur will not be determined for three to four months.

Under the new plan, low-acuity chemotherapy patients could be moved from beds in Strong to the Wilmot Center, freeing medical-surgical beds in the hospital and placing the cancer patients in a facility dedicated to cancer treatment.

Since two of the new Wilmot Center floors would be dedicated to cancer research, the new approach would have the added virtue of accelerating plans to upgrade the center’s research facilities, Taubman said.

New economic realities and tighter credit markets in the wake of last year’s banking crisis forced the university to rethink the PRISM plan. Even now, uncertainties about the ultimate impact of federal health care reform and constraints imposed by the state’s dire budget problems make planning for the project tricky, said Michael Goonan, URMC chief financial officer.

URMC plans to borrow some $23 million for the cancer center project and pay for the rest out of capital reserves. That is much more manageable than the original PRISM plan would have been, he said. How much of its initial 123-bed certificate-of-need request Strong would add remains a moving target.

URMC CEO Bradford Berk M.D., who has been on leave since suffering a severe spinal injury in a bicycling accident in June, praised the revised expansion plan as one that would let the hospital add capacity quickly while still setting the stage for the children’s hospital and imaging center upgrades included in the PRISM plan.

In a statement, UR president Joel Seligman called the revised plan “practical and forward thinking.” The hospital expansion project still promises to be the biggest single project UR has undertaken, he added.

For more information, see the Nov. 13 print edition of the Rochester Business Journal.
           
<i>(c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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