Health & Family

Carolinas HealthCare announces $150 million expansion for Levine Cancer Institute

Carolinas HealthCare System released this artist’s rendering of a new, seven-story outpatient center for Levine Cancer Institute. Construction is projected to begin on Morehead Street near Kenilworth Avenue in early 2017.
Carolinas HealthCare System released this artist’s rendering of a new, seven-story outpatient center for Levine Cancer Institute. Construction is projected to begin on Morehead Street near Kenilworth Avenue in early 2017. Ron Boozer of Design Strategies

Only four years after breaking ground for the Levine Cancer Institute on Morehead Street, Carolinas HealthCare System leaders announced a $150 million expansion plan Tuesday, noting the cancer program has exceeded growth expectations.

The institute’s doctors and nurses are seeing 15,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients each year, according to CEO Michael Tarwater, who said that’s approaching the size of famed cancer centers, MD Anderson in Texas and Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.

Expansion will enable more patients to get care and to participate in more clinical trials of experimental cancer therapies that have not previously been available in the Charlotte area. Today, about 1,000 patients are enrolled in clinical trials through the institute.

It would have been hard to imagine four years ago that the new facility would be stretched to capacity so quickly.

Michael Tarwater, CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System

On Tuesday, the system’s board of commissioners unanimously approved a plan to build a $125 million outpatient care center on Morehead. The seven-story, 260,000-square-foot building will be adjacent to the institute’s original six-story building and connected by an above-ground walkway. The 3.5-acre lot, near the corner of Morehead and Kenilworth Avenue, is currently a surface parking lot.

The project also will include a $20 million renovation of 32 patient rooms at Carolinas Medical Center for the bone marrow transplant program and for patients with other serious blood-borne cancers. The rooms include 16 that are already used for transplant patients and 16 that will be converted from another use. The rooms require special features to protect patients who become critically ill during the transplant process.

We don’t have two classes of cancer patients. It doesn’t matter whether you have insurance. We take care of your cancer.

Dr. Derek Raghavan, president of Levine Cancer Institute

Construction on the new building and renovation of the patient rooms is expected to start in early 2017. A third part of the project – a $5 million renovation of the current cancer institute to provide better efficiency – is planned for late 2018.

“It would have been hard to imagine four years ago that the new facility would be stretched to capacity so quickly,” Tarwater told the board at its quarterly meeting.

When Dr. Derek Raghavan was named president of Levine Cancer Institute in 2010, the cancer team had 85 employees. Today, there are 1,000 employees in 25 locations, and the same care is provided across the region, without regard to patient income or the size of the local hospital, Raghavan said.

“We don’t have two classes of cancer patients,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you have insurance. We take care of your cancer.”

Raghavan said the expansion will also allow improvements to existing programs for survivors, including rehabilitation and palliative care. A “frequent flier lounge” will be created for patient families and spouses who are “trying to run their businesses and keep their families going” while supporting loved ones during cancer treatment, he said.

The new building will provide more space for oncology practices, outpatient infusion therapies and specialty pharmacy services. Renovation of patient rooms at CMC will expand the capability of the existing adult bone marrow transplant unit, which is “jammed” and has performed 200 transplants in only two years, Raghavan said.

Michael Tarwater, CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System, is retiring in June. Tarwater talked about arriving in Charlotte and his relationship with Leon and Sandra Levine.

In other business, the public nonprofit hospital system reported net operating revenue of more than $9 billion in 2015, an increase of 5.8 percent over 2014. Operating income was $422 million, an increase of $161 million, for the total enterprise of 40 hospitals and hundreds of doctors offices and health centers across the Carolinas. Revenue after expenses totaled $302 million, a decrease of $149 million over the year before, largely because of investment losses.

For the primary enterprise, which includes only the Charlotte region, Chief Financial Officer Greg Gombar said revenue after expenses was also “below last year” because of investment losses. But 2015 net operating revenue rose by 11 percent to $5.4 billion because of growing “patient volume.”

“More patients are selecting the clinicians and programs at Carolinas HealthCare System,” Gombar said. For example, he said, the system’s partnership with Aetna on an insurance plan offered through the Affordable Care Act marketplace attracted 30,000 new patients to Carolinas HealthCare in 2015.

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch

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