Release Date: February 21, 2014

MMC and Essentia Health announce $12 million cancer center for Ashland

The Daily Press

Memorial Medical Center and Essentia Health Tuesday announced the construction of a new $12 million state-of-the-art cancer treatment center to be built at the MMC campus located on Beaser Avenue in Ashland.

The new facility, which will be named the Northwest Wisconsin Cancer Center (NWCC), will be housed in a new building located adjacent to MMC and Essentia Health-Ashland Clinic.

According to MMC Chief Executive Officer Jason Douglas, the announcement is the culmination of a two-year process between the two organizations aimed at collaborating on the expansion of cancer treatment services in the Ashland area.

“We have done extensive research, and the need for additional services, especially radiation oncology, is significant,” Douglas said. “We’ve talked with local physicians and everyone agrees that this investment will greatly benefit cancer patients from our region who will no longer have to drive hundreds of miles to get the services they need.

“If you can imagine having to drive back and forth to Duluth in this cold weather multiple times a week, you can see the benefit.”

Douglas said studies showed that there was enough of a population to justify the project.

Essentia Health has been providing cancer care services on the MMC campus since 2002. The new center will offer many of the same services provided at Essentia’s Cancer Center in Duluth, including infusion therapy,radiation therapy and clinical trials as well as the STAR Cancer Rehabilitation Program, a survivorship program and educational resource center, said Mike Metcalf, Essentia executive vice president for clinic operations.

Douglas said he tentatively anticipates the creation of about five or six new positions, including support staff and nurses.

“Bringing new services and new jobs to our medical campus and community is a win-win,” he said, noting that in addition to the linear accelerator, the facility will house a CT scanner, and offer therapy services unique to oncology patients.

Dr. Mihailo Lalich, who moved to the region last year and has been providing cancer care in Ashland, Hayward and Spooner, will serve as medical director. Other medical staff will include Dr. Peter Kebbekus, and NursePractitioner Hilary Lambert, who currently travels to Ashland from Duluth one day per week, as well as a team of radiation oncologists from Duluth who will provide full-time coverage in the new cancer center.

Boldt Construction of Appleton has been chosen as contractor for the project with Kahler Slater Architects of Milwaukee providing design services.

“This is a highly specialized project because the building will house linear accelerators, but we hope to take full advantage of our local workforce,” Douglas said.

The project is slated to break ground in March.

“If all goes as planned, the Northwest Wisconsin Cancer Center will open in August of 2015,” Douglas said.

Douglas said the $12 million price tag included some contingency spending that may be deleted as the project goes along.

Nevertheless, he said the project was a landmark event for both MMC and Essentia. “For us, these types of events don’t occur very often,” he said. “You can imagine the excitement of the board and the physicians and the staff at MMC. This is a once-in-50 years type of event for us to be able to develop and expand a program like this. There is a tremendous amount of energy and excitement around, being able to offer this kind of service to the residents of the Bay area.”

Essentia shares that feeling, said Metcalf.

“We are very excited about it,” he said. “This is really based on a patient-focused initiative, looking at what is in the best interests of our patients whom we are serving in that market.”

Metcalf noted that there continues to be an increase in cancer cases in northwest Wisconsin and in the western Upper Peninsula.“

When you take a look at what services are there right now, and how far our patients have to travel for things like radiation therapy, working with our associates at Memorial Medical Center, we considered that maybe there was something that we can do together to really benefit the patients,” he said.

The result of this effort is a program Metcalf said would provide expanded infusion services and radiation oncology where patients will not have to drive all the way to Duluth, Wausau, Minocqua or Rice Lake for that care.

Another thing Essentia brings to the center is a consistency of treatment, with all board-certified oncologists working in partnership with nurse practitioners, Metcalf said.“

It’s really a team-based care model to provide excellent oncology there in a manner that provides high quality care and excellent service. “This is truly a collaborative effort,” said Metcalf, who stressed that the project is “all about delivering value to patients.”

By working together, Memorial Medical Center and Essentia Health can provide better service and higher quality care to cancer patients at a reduced cost,” he said. “And, best of all, we will do it close to home for our patients.”