UH touts cancer center


POSTED: Monday, February 02, 2009

With funding-hungry legislators circling like foxes, the University of Hawaii hopes to protect a nest egg for a new Cancer Center in Kakaako by moving quickly on negotiations with a development firm.

Gary Ostrander, vice chancellor for research and graduate education, said about $20 million has built up in the cigarette tax fund since the 2006 Legislature increased the cigarette tax and allocated part of it for the center.

“;If we can retain that, we're in really good shape,”; he said.

But Sen. David Ige (D, Aiea-Pearl City) warned UH officials, “;I can tell you there are people looking at that fund, and it has been idle for two years.”;

The Legislature and state administration are scouring the state budget for untapped sources to reduce a $75 million general fund deficit.

If the university “;is not ready to hit the ground running (for the cancer center), it will be gone,”; said Ige, Senate health chairman.

UH officials briefed Ige, Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda (D, Kaneohe-Kailua) and committee members Thursday on the new center's status.

“;It's taken far too long ... to get to this point,”; said Sen. Rosalyn Baker (D, Honokohau-Makena).

She asked UH President David McClain “;and everybody here”; for a firm commitment to move ahead with the development, pointing out the National Cancer Institute “;is expecting a stronger commitment from the university and the state for cancer care.”;

Townsend Capital LLC, a Maryland firm, was selected in 2006 to design, build and finance the facility on a 5.5-acre site Ewa of the medical school in Kakaako.

Since funding was assured from cigarette taxes, McClain said, “;We have been working deliberately and diligently to bring our dreams to reality.”;

After many complicated issues and delays, UH reached agreement with the Hawaii Community Development Authority last September on a lease for the new center.

McClain said negotiations have progressed with Townsend “;despite a turbulence in capital markets.”;

Interim center Director Michele Carbone “;has made significant progress in bringing all major health care providers to the table around the concept of a 'matrix'-style clinical care system,”; McClain added.

Carbone quelled opposition by some hospitals to a proposed clinical facility at the new cancer center with the idea of a “;matrix model,”; which some centers have on the mainland.

Instead of a single clinical facility operated as part of the center, Carbone told legislators, center research will be applied to diagnosis and treatment at hospitals statewide.

McClain said UH hopes negotiations can be completed with Townsend by the Feb. 20 Board of Regents meeting. Design would be completed by mid-2010, and construction would take about 30 months with a possible opening in late 2012 or early 2013, he said.

Brian Minaai, UH associate vice president for capital improvements, said planning has focused thus far on a public-private partnership, with Townsend financing, owning and leasing the building back to the university.

But if the university can obtain more favorable financing through revenue or government obligation bonds, he said, it could finance and own the building and pay the debt service.

Executives of the Queen's Medical Center, Kuakini Medical Center and Hawaii Pacific Health hospitals presented a joint statement at the hearing supporting the Cancer Research Center.