Ohio State Reviewing Changes to $500M Cancer Center

Sun July 01, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Andrew Welsh-Huggins - AP LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Backers of the Ohio State University cancer center believe a proposed $500 million expansion has been derailed and are hoping a university review will address their concerns.

The complaints pit a team of heavy-hitting Ohio State fundraisers against the director of the university’s top-ranked medical center.

The debate began with a letter to Ohio State officials in which founders and backers of the James Cancer Center argued that the center’s original expansion plan was being unnecessarily merged with an expansion plan for the entire medical center, which includes the James center.

“We cannot afford to allow the Medical Center leadership to pursue a dangerous path which in our view undermines The James’ ability to build and enhance its clear record of excellence,” said the letter. The letter was sent to Ohio State President Karen Holbrook, trustees and Fred Sanfilippo, medical center director on Jan. 24.

“These issues must be resolved,” Holbrook said in a Feb. 19 letter to the cancer center fundraisers.

The university is spending $772,500 on two consultants studying the entire medical center expansion plan.

The overall expansion will cost approximately $780 million, including changes to the cancer center. That includes approximately $680 million in university debt and $100 million in donations.

The university had already intended to hire the consultants and the decision was not a result of the complaints, William Shkurti, Ohio State’s senior vice president for business and finance, said April 4.

The university hired the consultants because of the complexity of the medical center expansion and to make sure it’s financially successful and a benefit to patients, he said.

Shkurti planned to outline the consultants’ hiring to trustees April 6.

Backers of the cancer center said it’s important that it remain an independently run organization. They said changes could hurt the center’s status as a stand-alone cancer hospital and make it more difficult to compete with other cancer centers.

They also said potential donors to the cancer center are having second thoughts because of the changes.

Cancer center supporters include Ohio State medical center fundraisers Judy and Steven Tuckerman and Stefanie and Chris Spielman. Stefanie Spielman is known for her fight against breast cancer and to date has raised $4 million through the James center.

Her husband, a former Ohio State football star, played linebacker for the Detroit Lions from 1988 to 1995 and later for the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills. Chris Spielman postponed an NFL comeback to help his wife after her 1998 cancer diagnosis.

“By merging the two together it creates conflicts for the James, and they have more risk of losing than gaining,” Stefanie Spielman said.

Sanfilippo responded in a Feb. 1 letter that the medical center is committed to building the cancer center’s national reputation. He said concerns about university debt and construction costs and other factors influenced the changes to the cancer center’s plan.

“The process that has been followed was inclusive, robust and allowed for serious debate and discussion,” Sanfilippo said in the letter.

Messages seeking comment were left April 4 for Sanfilippo.

U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks the OSU Medical Center one of “America’s Best Hospitals.”

To review the medical center’s strategic plan, Ohio State has hired Detroit-based Deloitte & Touche at a cost of $550,000 plus up to $82,500 for travel and expenses.

To review the medical center’s master facilities plan and to the financial relationship between the medical center and the James Cancer Center, Ohio State hired Brookfield, Wis.-based Hammes and Co. at a cost of $116,000 plus up to $24,000 for travel and expenses.

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