Central Maine Healthcare seeks to build a 50,000-square-foot cancer center at its Lewiston property. Drawing provided by Central Maine Healthcare

LEWISTON — Central Maine Healthcare officials have told the state they need a new, multimillion-dollar cancer center in large part because their two linear accelerators are nearing the end of their lifespans and officials believe it would be “inadvisable” to retrofit the current space for new ones.

In its certificate of need application released this week, CMHC said the 8-year-old accelerators, which produce targeted radiation for cancer treatment, will reach the end of their useful lives in December 2021. CMHC said its original supplier no longer produces that accelerator, so the machines cannot simply be replaced with newer models.

No other accelerators on the market can fit into the current space, and CMHC said retrofitting that space is not advisable because construction would significantly disrupt treatment and cost a considerable amount of money while keeping the radiation department in an already poor location.

“Failing to replace the equipment would burden cancer patients and their families in central Maine by increasing both travel distances and time to access care,” according to the application. “Delaying replacement would increase the risk of service disruptions and delayed or interrupted treatment for patients battling cancer because of the growing maintenance needs of the aging equipment.”

CMHC has proposed creating a 50,000-square-foot cancer center at the northeast section of Central Maine Medical Center’s Lewiston campus, bordered by Holland Street to the north, High Street to the south and Main Street to the east. The center would replace the current outpatient oncology program at the hospital.

The proposed center, to be built by a developer and leased over 20 years by CMHC, is slated to cost about $35 million to build. With interest and leasing costs, it is expected to cost CMHC about $38 million.

Because of its size and price tag, the proposed cancer center requires certificate of need approval from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in order to move forward. CMHC’s 33-page application offers new details about why it wants the cancer center and why the community needs it.

The linear accelerators are a large reason why CMHC wants a new cancer center. Without new equipment, according to the application, “it is reasonably anticipated that the existing linear accelerators will experience additional down time in the future.”

Also a major factor in CMHC’s request: A new center would allow the health system to consolidate its Lewiston cancer care in one spot.

Currently, according to the application, radiation treatment and cancer specialists are located on opposite ends of the campus, requiring patients — who may be elderly, frail or sick — to walk 15 minutes from one to the other or to leave the building and drive across the property. CMHC estimated that 450 to 500 of its patients need both radiation and medical oncology, such as chemotherapy, each year.

“Communication and access to timely consults will be enhanced due to physician offices being nearby,” according to the application. “Providers will be able to stop into patient appointments if one of their peers has a request, creating greater communication channels between providers in different departments and more comprehensive quality care for the patient.”

The consolidation, according to the application, would also allow the health system to “enhance the hours of service, allowing patients undergoing cancer treatment to avoid unnecessary emergency department visits when addressing treatment complications.”

CMHC emphasized it provides “critical regional access to cancer care” as one of just six outpatient radiation sites in Maine and the only one in this region. For about 200,000 residents, it said, CMMC in Lewiston is the closest option. Without it, local patients would have to travel an additional 39.3 miles round trip on average.

CMHC also pointed out its cancer services are needed. Androscoggin County, for example, has higher-than-average rates of lung and bladder cancers, as well as cancers associated with the human papillomavirus. Oxford County has higher-than-average rates of lung cancer, colon and rectal cancers, and cancers associated with the human papillomavirus. And Franklin County has higher-than-average rates of prostate cancer, colon and rectal cancers, and bladder cancer. All three counties have higher rates of tobacco-related cancers.

In its application, CMHC called the center “an investment in the well-being of an entire region of Maine.”

CMHC said cancer services are projected to grow in this region, with more people being diagnosed with cancer, particularly as the population ages, and with more people opting to get their treatment locally. For a new cancer center, CMHC projected a net patient revenue of just under $42 million for fiscal 2022, almost $44 million for fiscal 2023 and slightly more than $47 million for fiscal 2024.

DHHS is now accepting comments on the proposed center.

CMHC will also hold a community forum at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the Gendron Franco Center to allow community members to ask questions about the project and to learn more about the proposal. Officials will also be there to present updated architectural drawings and to preliminarily discuss parking, traffic and other matters.

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