A partnership announced last month between Anderson Hospital of Maryville and St. Louis-based Mercy Hospital means Mercy doctors will provide cancer treatments out of a cancer center near the Maryville hospital.
Under the alliance, dubbed Anderson Mercy Cancer Care, a corps of Mercy Hospital doctors specializing in medical and radiation cancer treatments will operate out of Anderson’s Warren Billhartz Cancer Center.
Anderson Hospital views the partnership as an advance in the accessibility and level of regional cancer care.
Dr. Mohamed Megahy, a radiation oncologist who has practiced in the area for almost 30 years, disagrees. Megahy had provided radiation therapy at the Billhartz center before his lease expired Aug. 31. Now his patients must decide between traveling greater distances to Megahy’s other clinics in Belleville or Breese or finding treatment through someone else.
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A deal made
Anderson Hospital CEO Keith Page said discussions with Mercy began almost a year ago. He said partnering with Mercy, which runs the David C. Pratt Cancer Center in St. Louis, seemed a natural fit.
“We kind of looked at what we wanted the program to be and where we thought oncology services were headed, and what we saw is that oncology was going to be moving toward more integrated care, where the providers, the hospital and all the services are more connected,” Page said.
Partnerships in the medical setting have become more common, with a recent local example being a strategic partnership announced between Belleville’s Memorial Hospital and St. Louis-based BJC HealthCare system last year.
“As medicine changes and becomes more complicated and more capital-intensive and more specialized, I think community hospitals like Anderson look toward hospitals that have expertise they can bring to the table and that we can work with them to really bring excellent services to our community together,” Page said.
Lisa Klaustermeier, Anderson’s chief nursing officer, said: “We have the potential in the near future to do research and clinical trials. Having that partnership, we can expand our tumor board and review of cases that we can extend to (Mercy’s) experts for individualized care for patients.”
Klaustermeier said most patients will begin receiving some care under the partnership starting Monday.
Patients who need radiation treatments must wait until after the first of the year because $3 million in new equipment won’t be ready until then.
Page said: “We have arrangements in place for patients who need radiation therapy to make use of existing services. Naturally Mercy, at their cancer center, is very interested in taking care of those patients and then also we have an arrangement with St. Anthony’s Health Center in Alton.”
What eventually became the Billhartz center started as a smaller building constructed in 2005. Before then, Megahy treated patients from an older site next door.
Megahy said that when new radiation technology became available in 2004, he faced the dilemma of either retrofitting the older site or putting up a new one.
A cost analysis showed a new building was the better idea, so Megahy approached Anderson about buying back land he’d sold to the hospital. According to Megahy, the hospital wasn’t interested in selling the land, but agreed to build a site to Megahy’s specifications and then allow him to rent it.
The Billhartz center was completed when an addition was built for medical oncologists — doctors who treated cancer but did not need radiation equipment.
In 2015, when the initial 10-year lease between the hospital and Megahy ended, they negotiated a one-year lease, which expired Aug. 31. The medical oncologists who shared the cancer center with Megahy left in May.
Clearing the way
That meant that at the end of Megahy’s lease, the building would be free for use for the new partnership between Mercy and Anderson.
Megahy said he had planned to stay long enough to invest in new radiation equipment because what was in use in the Maryville clinic was due for replacement, but he couldn’t get the financing because he only had a one-year lease.
Page said: “Over a year ago we told Dr. Megahy to be aware that we were going to be changing the model of how we were going to provide cancer care. We felt like we were giving him the notice that he needed to in order for him to make other arrangements. We wish him well, but in the new model that we’re working with we really have to have that space available to provide radiation oncology services there.”
As the end of his lease neared, Megahy told patients he would no longer have a place to practice in Maryville.
One of them, Larry Braman of Staunton, said he chose to remain Megahy’s patient and make the longer drive to Breese for his treatments.
“When I had set up my treatment at first I had no idea he was going to have to leave that building,” said Braman, 77, who has prostate cancer.
When he heard the news, Braman said his choice came down to timing. “I didn’t want to start over with someone else because I knew that would take more time,” he said. “I didn’t want to waste time.”
Megahy isn’t calling it quits in Maryville. He hopes to close soon on nearby land so he can build a new cancer center.
He says the money he paid in rent to Anderson — about $2.4 million over the last 10 years — could have paid for a center of his own. A quote Megahy got in March from Holland Construction estimated the cost at just over $2.3 million.
If the deal goes through, Megahy’s new center would sit at 6808 Illinois 162, across the street from Anderson Hospital.