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WRH prepares for Radiation Oncology Center

WORTHINGTON -- Blueprints and computer-generated drawings are helping officials at Worthington Regional Hospital, as well as the general public, envision how the Radiation Oncology Center will fit onto the hospital campus.

Such drawings, supplied by HGA Architects of Minneapolis, detail how the center will be attached onto the northwest end of the facility.

"It's really going to fit onto the campus very nicely," commented WRH Chief Executive Officer Mel Platt at the April 17 meeting of the hospital's Board of Trustees. "We certainly picked the right architect. They're outstanding."

The idea of building a radiation oncology center in Worthington was first proposed during a strategic planning session. Research supported the need for such a facility, with 1,020 new cancer cases projected annually in the southwest Minnesota area.

Radiation therapy is often used alone or in combination with surgery or chemotherapy to treat many types of cancer. Cancer patients in the local area now have to drive at least 120 miles round trip, often daily, to receive radiation therapy treatments.

The project is currently in the design phase, with some of the final details being worked out. The center will be attached to the hospital with an elevator connecting the two facilities at the hospital's first-floor level. The tie-in will eliminate two beds in the first-floor ward, which will not cause a hardship to the facility, but is actually an opportunity for the hospital to install a much-needed shower at that end of the floor and add one private room. Platt noted that the elevator and traffic flow in the treatment facility will allow hospital patients to discreetly enter the radiation oncology center for treatment without going through the public areas.

The cancer treatment facility will also be aesthetically connected to the current building through a concrete awning stretching from hospital's main entrance.

"That could be eliminated," said Platt about the awning, "but the walkway really connects the two buildings, ties them together," as well as providing some shelter from the elements.

The estimated building cost currently stands at $3.1 million, which is about $400,000 less than the original pro forma assumptions presented in August 2005 by Oncology Solutions LLC, a consulting firm in Decatur, Ga. The architects pared the facility down from 10,000 square feet to 8,400 square feet, which resulted in substantial savings.

Other aspects of the project are in various phases. The equipment bid is currently being analyzed to determine the most cost-effective option. Platt said the recommendation will more than likely be for refurbished equipment, which would be state-of-the art since it most often comes from universities and research facilities that are continually provided with the newest technologies. That would bring the equipment cost estimate into the $1.5 million to $1.8 million range.

As far as funding and ownership, a limited liability corporation is being formed with WRH as the majority owner. Other partners have been identified, and WRH's legal counsel has been involved in discussions and will develop the appropriate documents. Donations are continually being sought from the community, and the WRH Health Care Foundation has about $700,000 earmarked for the project, the bulk a gift from the Wilbur Christensen estate received in December 2004.

Some fund-raisers are in the works, including a pancake feed on May 21 at the Elks Lodge in Worthington. Platt has been drumming up interest in the project during presentations to community organizations.

Construction is expected to begin in July, with operation anticipated by April 2007.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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