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Bill may delay opening of Woodbury cancer center

A new outpatient cancer center slated to open this fall in Woodbury, may be delayed for at least two years, should a bill making its way through the state Legislature be signed into law.

In February, a coalition of health care companies including Allina Health Systems and Minnesota Oncology Hematology announced the new center would be located at the Cornerstone Medical development at Lake Road and Century Drive.

The location happens to be very close to Woodwinds Hospital, which was one of many hospitals in the east metro who lobbied legislators to vote on a bill that will put a two-year moratorium on the operation of the new cancer center.

The state Senate passed the bill 56-7 last week, which would put a two-year moratorium on new radiation therapy facilities in the metro area.

The bill has a general tone, but was proposed specifically to put a hold on the opening of the new facility in Woodbury after several hospitals, including HealthEast, which owns Woodwinds Hospital, lobbied the legislature,

Although, representatives of MOHPA and Allina have said the location of the new cancer center is justified due to the increase in population in the east metro, representatives from HealthEast said otherwise during testimony in support of the Senate bill last week.

"Not only are for-profit, freestanding centers not obligated to fulfill a community mission, but in some cases the financial profits from their operations are leaving our community to fill the coffers of national for-profit companies headquartered elsewhere, funding their expansion of additional for-profit operations in other markets around the country," said Dr. Bob Beck, vice president of medical affairs for the HealthEast Care System.

The bill, which was authored by Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, would give time for the Minnesota Department of Health to do research to see whether additional freestanding cancer treatment centers would be needed in the metro area, or if their presence would cut away business from non-profit hospitals that provide outpatient radiation therapy.

The state Legislature passed a bill in 2003 that required freestanding cancer treatment centers to be owned, operated or controlled by a hospital.

But the new Woodbury cancer center would not have been affected by the law, because of the center's partnership with Allina Health System, said Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury.

"(The bill) is about fixing that loophole, so we can have a thoughtful, responsible discussion about our radiation therapy facilities in the metro area," said Saltzman, who voted for the moratorium.

Although some critics have suggested the moratorium stifles the free-market, Saltzman said it's about making sure hospitals in the area aren't hurt financially.

"When you look at a hospital and the many different services it provides, some of the treatments it provides create revenue," Saltzman said. "But some of it, like maintaining a 24-hour emergency room, operates with a deficit. If you have freestanding radiation facilities across the street taking away that revenue from non-profit hospitals. Those freestanding facilities don't have to subsidize so many services like a general hospital does."

Spokesperson for Allina Health System and MOHPA could not be reached for comment by press time.

The House has yet to vote on a version of the bill, but Saltzman said, that even if moratorium passes, it doesn't mean the new outpatient cancer center isn't needed.

"We're not saying we shouldn't have this facility in Woodbury," she said. "But we need to have a discussion of who should be involved in developing these centers and when they are needed."