WAILUKU - Maui Memorial Medical Center officials have signed a lease with the Pacific Cancer Institute of Maui, clearing the way for construction to begin on a nearly $7 million expansion project.
The work will claim about 2,500 square feet that now serves as a driveway for the hospital's back entrance near the emergency room. The project's focus is to create space for a $3 million TrueBeam STx system, which will enable doctors to deliver high doses of radiation to cancerous organs while leaving healthy tissue unharmed.
The new machine will focus radiation on "moving targets," such as lung cancer, which moves as a patient breathes in and out. The radiation breaks down the DNA in cancer cells, preventing them from replicating.
Dr. Bobby Baker, a radiation oncologist and founder of the Pacific Cancer Institute of Maui, stands in the driveway of Maui Memorial Medical Center’s back entrance last week. Construction is expected to begin Monday on an expansion of the institute to make way for new $3 million radiation therapy equipment.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
Aside from making room for new radiation therapy equipment, renovation work at the center will include increasing the number of patient examination rooms from three to five and doctors' offices from two to four.
Dr. Bobby Baker, a radiation oncologist and the institute's founder, said last week that he expects that project general contractor Arita/Poulson will begin construction Monday.
"I'm relieved and scared to death at the same time," said Baker, who has been anxious to begin construction on the project.
But he said he's also worried about the future of medicine and what politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., will decide about reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for the most cutting-edge treatment available.
The TrueBeam STx system requires construction of a concrete vault measuring 42-by-42 feet and nearly 18 feet high, Baker said. It will need 8-foot-thick walls to keep radiation safely within the treatment area.
Once the vault is completed, it will take about three months to install and calibrate the machine, he said.
While the new equipment is put in place, the institute's patients will continue receiving treatment on its radiation therapy machine, which has been at the facility since it opened in September 1994.
Maui Memorial Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo signed a lease for the facility's expansion last week, and he said he's excited to have state-of-the-art technology soon available to perform radiosurgery.
"This technology is first in the state and happens to coincide with the expansion of our new cardiothoracic program," Lo said. "With the addition of cardiothoracic surgeons, such as Dr. Michael H. Dang and others that we expect to join us in the future, and with Dr. Baker and the Pacific Cancer Institute, this will provide us the ability to start designing a comprehensive approach to lung cancer, which would not be available anywhere else in the state.
"This is a fantastic addition that will allow us to concentrate on our strategic efforts to address the leading killers, which are cardiac, stroke and cancer," he said.
Baker said that while the facility will serve Maui residents first, he expects that cancer patients from elsewhere in the state would come to Maui Memorial for treatment with the new technology.
The machine will allow doctors to treat patients faster, with higher doses of radiation, he said.
"You have to be confident your target is very defined," he said. "And you can only do that on this type of machine. You only want to kill cancerous cells and avoid normal tissues."
Baker said the new technology will allow patients to get only three to five treatments over a few days, compared with current equipment that delivers 30 to 35 doses of lower amounts of radiation over seven to eight weeks.
"We'll be able to treat them much faster," and on an outpatient basis, Baker said.
He acknowledged that individual treatments with the new equipment would be more expensive, but because the number of sessions would be fewer the overall cost would be reduced by nearly half.
Radiosurgery also means patients don't need to go under a surgeon's knife and do not require a hospital bed for their recovery, he said.
Hospital visitors and employees will see the impact of the expansion project soon in the driveway near the emergency room.
Lo said the work "will inevitably impact traffic flow, but we hope to keep it to a minimum."
"We would like to remind motorists and pedestrians to use caution during the construction, which we anticipate to take about four to six months," he said.
Lo added that the staging area for construction will be the cancer institute's private parking lot, which has been used for its employee parking. Public parking is not expected to be impacted, he said, although he encouraged hospital visitors to use the facility's free valet service whenever possible.
Originally trained as an engineer, Baker said overseeing construction and installation of the new equipment will be his last project at the cancer institute.
"The engineer in me can't wait to get my hands on this new TrueBeam STx," he said. "It is the ultimate toy for an engineer-doctor who has fun every day with the technology that keeps getting better."
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.