Upper Chesapeake Health System, owner and operator of Harford County's two hospitals, has broken ground for construction of the county's first cancer treatment center.
The 5,000-square-foot Upper Chesapeake Oncology Center is scheduled to open in December. Officials with the health system, who run Fallston General Hospital near Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, say the new center eventually will serve as many as 300 patients a year.
Jeffrey A. Flick, a senior vice president with the health system, said the idea of the center is to provide accessible and affordable care to residents of Harford and Cecil counties. Cancer patients in need of radiation therapy or chemotherapy now must travel to hospitals in and around Baltimore or in the Wilmington, Del., area, he said.
The one-story center is being built at the Riverside Medical Complex in Belcamp, where the health system already operates one of its five family-care centers, which are free-standing medical offices that house general physicians, pediatricians and other specialists. The site is midway along Interstate 95 in Harford, about a half-mile from the new Md. 543 interchange.
Flick said it would cost about $2 million to build and equip the center.
In addition to providing treatment for people already diagnosed with cancer, he said, regular cancer screenings will be offered there. "We can detect it early on," which improves the chances for treatment, he said.
According to figures from state and federal health agencies, using data collected between 1983 and 1987, there are 185 cancer deaths per 100,000 people per year in Harford and 183.5 deaths per 100,000 in Cecil.
The statewide average is 192.8 deaths per 100,000. The average is 171 deaths per 100,000 across the country.
"We see cancer being diagnosed every day in our hospitals and family-care centers," Flick said. With the new center, he said, "We know we can do a better job for the patients."
Other services offered at the center include psychological counseling for patients and family members and nutritional counseling for patients. Also, the center will provide free van service daily to transport patients to and from their homes.
If a patient needs surgery as part of treatment, Flick said, that can be coordinated with the health system's two hospitals in the county.
A typical patient will undergo treatment for five to seven weeks, up to five days a week, Flick said. Having to travel long distances to receive treatment can be physically and mentally stressful, he said.
Oncology Services Corp. of State College, Pa., will operate the center for the health system. The company operates 17 similar community-based cancer treatment centers in eight states, including one at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney and another at Maryland General Hospital in Baltimore.
The company, founded in 1985, calls itself the largest provider of radiation therapy centers in the nation.
Flick said the health system and Oncology Services Corp. are hiring a full-time radiation oncologist who also will serve as medical director. A second physician, nurses and other support staff will make up a staff of up to 10 people.