Cancer center moves one step forward

The Connecticut Office of Health Care Access approved Yale New-Haven Hospital’s plan to build a $430 million cancer center Wednesday, but a series of hurdles remain as city approval will likely drag out into late fall.

In its final settlement, the OHCA wrote the hospital’s projected need for additional beds is reasonable, as supply will exceed demand only in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 — should the center open as planned — and the current number of beds is insufficient to meet projected demand.

The office cited a projected population growth to more than 2.4 million people in the hospital’s service area by 2009. Many of these patients will be over 65, the age group representing six out of every 10 new cancer patients. The OHCA gave its support to the hospital’s plans to consolidate its oncology services into one 14-story building, as the consolidation “will allow for enhanced quality of care to all patients and a multi-disciplinary approach to care for cancer patients.”

Yale-New Haven spokesman Vin Petrini said hospital officials are pleased OHCA was responsive to predicted demographic trends, including growth in older populations and patients seeking cancer treatment.

“We are very pleased with OCHA’s approval,” he said. “This clears the pathway for a prompt and timely local approval.”

The settlement states the hospital’s proposal is financially feasible, will not negatively affect insurance payers or consumers, and can keep costs in check while making care accessible to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

Though Hospital of St. Raphael President David Benfer has voiced concerns about the cancer center hiking up patient care costs in the city, St. Raphael representative Bill Brucker said the hospital currently has no comment on the OHCA approval.

State approval of the hospital’s plan proceeded at a similar pace to that of most proposals put before the office, OHCA Chief of Staff John Blair said. City approval has proven to be a more arduous, lengthy process.

Board of Aldermen President Jorge Perez said he is pleased with the state’s approval, though he has not yet looked over the OHCA settlement.

He said because the hospital negotiated little with city groups, including the aldermen, before submitting its cancer center proposal, issues regarding zoning, costs and architectural detail must be fought out before the board will make a final decision.

“This is the most complicated development plan the city has had to handle in the last 20 years,” Perez said. “But there is nothing really unique about the situation. It is just complex.”

Perez said he expects there to be future public hearings after the City Plan Commission submits its zoning recommendation in late September or October and before the aldermen decide on the issue.

Petrini said the Service Employees International Union District 1199, the union local which represents dietary workers at the hospital and is leading an organizing drive there, has interfered with local approval for the center by launching negative campaigns against Yale-New Haven.

“Without doubt or question, the SEIU has been driving the delays of this cancer center at the local level,” he said.

But SEIU representative William Meyerson said the union supports plans to build the center, so long as the hospital pledges to provide fair access to treatment for uninsured patients and negotiate with its workers to establish a just process for unionization voting.

He said Yale-New Haven is to blame for any delays because they represent a broken relationship between the hospital and its employees, city residents and local government.

“The hospital needs to agree to a strong community benefits agreement,” Meyerson said. “It must stop insisting on a separate medical zone for just the hospital, which would end requirements that they follow current city zoning regulations. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and the city needs to look at it very carefully.”

Petrini said the hospital will go beyond some of the requirements for other zones, with plans to include green space and certain caps on building heights in its new zone.

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