DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A construction project in the city of Cleveland has a story behind it - not a good. A new cancer center is being built. It's right around the corner from a competing cancer hospital built just four years ago. Here's the story. The hospitals may not have to compete for cancer patients. In Cleveland and elsewhere in the U.S., there is likely to be plenty of business to go around. Sarah Jane Tribble from member station WCPN reports.
SARAH JANE TRIBBLE, BYLINE: The Cleveland Clinic's nearly $300 million cancer center a slated to open in two years. A couple of backhoes move supplies around the vast hole in the ground, and it's difficult to imagine that a seven-story glass building will take the hole's place. Cliff Kazmierczak with Turner Construction points to Cleveland's gray sky and traces a silhouette with his fingertips.
CLIFF KAZMIERCZAK: There will also be skylights that'll be located just a little bit south of where this crane is situated right now.
TRIBBLE: Kazmierczak knows a thing or two about construction projects for cancer. He came to this project after overseeing construction at the cancer hospital at Ohio State University a few hours south of here.
KAZMIERCZAK: The big thing is to make the patient comfortable with the treatments that they're going through. So lighting and light colors, as much natural light as possible are always very important to cancer patients.
TRIBBLE: Across the country the health care industry is building up to take care of an influx of cancer patients. The Advisory Board consults for hospitals and doctors. Last year, they found that about 25 percent of its members with oncology services were either constructing a cancer center or had built one in the past three years. The board's Deirdre Fuller says people are more likely to get cancer as they get older.
DEIRDRE FULLER: Now that everyone is looking forward and seeing the aging of the baby boomers, it's certainly adding some fuel to that fire.
TRIBBLE: And most boomers will get health insurance through Medicare, which is a steady paycheck for hospitals. Dr. Brian Bolwell is chair the Cleveland Clinic's cancer center. He says hospitals have to meet the need.
BRIAN BOLWELL: In the past five years, volumes go up, depending on location, between five and 10 percent a year, and there's no end in sight to that volume growth.
TRIBBLE: The Cleveland Clinic, along with local competitor university hospitals, treat about 70 percent of the region's cancer patients. And when the Cleveland Clinic opens its new center, the two will be about five minutes from each other. But Dr. Nathan Levitan with University Hospitals doesn't seem worried about the competition. His 4-year-old hospital, he says, is basically full every day.
NATHAN LEVITAN: We discharged over 11,000 patients with cancer in 2014, which is about a 20 percent increase over just a few years beforehand.
TRIBBLE: That's because both hospitals employ and contract with thousands of doctors, and in the world of cancer care, doctors have a lot of influence, says Levitan. People usually don't shop for cancer treatment until they are diagnosed, and at that moment, their doctor's advice on where to go matters a lot. Bill Ryan leads a hospital advocacy group in Cleveland. He says with so many expected patients, hospitals can afford to - and should - build.
BILL RYAN: If you can run enough procedures through a facility, you're going to get some economies of scale that will generate margin. The other thing you get when you run enough procedures through a facility is a level of expertise that improves the quality of care that the individual gets.
TRIBBLE: And when talking about cancer's future, hospital leaders tend to talk about quality of care and insist that focusing on quality will eventually lower cost for patients. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Jane Tribble in Cleveland.
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GREENE: The story you just heard is part of a reporting partnership between NPR, WCPN and Kaiser Health News.
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