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UNC Rex will expand its services for cancer patients with planned four-story Cancer Center

UNC Rex Healthcare is planning to build a four-story Cancer Center across from its main campus on Blue Ridge Road.
UNC Rex Healthcare is planning to build a four-story Cancer Center across from its main campus on Blue Ridge Road. Courtesy of UNC Rex

UNC REX Healthcare plans to build a $65 million Cancer Center across the street from its main Raleigh campus to keep up with an aging Triangle population.

Design plans are still being finalized, but construction on the four-story building is set to start in the spring of 2019 at the corner of Blue Ridge and Macon Pond roads, UNC Rex announced Wednesday. The 145,000 square-foot facility is scheduled to open in late 2020.

In addition to consolidating radiation, chemotherapy and related services, UNC Rex’s new Cancer Center would also offer massage, acupuncture, emotional support and other holistic treatments as part of a new “Quality of Life” clinic.

The larger space is needed to accommodate the increasing number of oncology patients that result from an aging population in a growing metropolitan region, said Alan Wolf, a UNC Rex spokesman. UNC Rex saw 5,587 new cancer patients in the past year, from 4,283 patients in the 2015 fiscal year, an increase of 30 percent in just four years, Wolf said.

“We believe our new Cancer Center will create a hub for oncology care for patients from across Wake County and Eastern North Carolina,” Steve Burriss, president of UNC REX, said in a statement. “This center will provide a new home to care for more people who rely on us for treatment and support during a cancer diagnosis.”

Rex’s chief competitor in Wake County, Duke University Health System, operates four cancer centers in Wake County, and has seen over 200 percent growth in cancer patient volume over the past four years, David Zaas, president of Duke Raleigh Hospital, said in a phone interview.

Part of that growth is due to Duke’s 2017 business partnership with Raleigh-based WakeMed Health & Hospitals. The partnership created Cancer Care Plus+, an integrated county-wide cancer service that gives WakeMed patients access to Duke doctors and clinics.

“Leveraging the strengths of WakeMed and Duke has made it easier for Wake County patients to get the care they need, closer to home – without the need for costly new construction or infrastructure,” WakeMed said in an emailed statement. “The collaborative currently has five focus areas: thoracic, GI (Gastrointestinal), breast, GU (Genitourinary), and gynecologic oncology. It has established joint tumor boards – made up of physicians and specialists from both WakeMed and Duke – who review cases, discuss treatment plans and ensure cancer patients are receiving the right care at the right place.”

The UNC Rex Cancer Center will consolidate its current main REX Cancer Center and a satellite clinic on Blue Ridge Road. Six other satellite locations will remain open in Garner, Cary, Wakefield, East Raleigh, Clayton and Smithfield.

UNC Rex plans to pay for the Cancer Center through cash reserves, bonds and donations; it plans to kick off a capital campaign early next year, Wolf said.

The Cancer Center does not require adding new beds because it largely consists of infusion bays and other services provided on an outpatient basis.

UNC Rex does not plan to seek a state permit, called a “certificate of need,” to build the facility, Wolf said. UNC Rex received a state certificate in 2010, but delayed construction while it was building a $235-million, 8-story heart tower.

Duke University does not plan to challenge UNC Rex’s 8-year-old permit, Zaas said. That means that UNC Rex’s consolidation will not be bogged down by years of legal maneuvering.

In 2017, UNC Rex Health Care opened a $235 million heart hospital in Raleigh, the North Carolina Heart & Vascular Hospital. The eight-story, 306,000 square foot facility has 114 patient rooms.

John Murawski covers health care and environmental issues and has won numerous awards from the N.C. Press Association for his news coverage as well as his book reviews. He has previously worked as a journalist in South Florida, the Philadelphia area and Washington, D.C. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University and Indiana University, and has taken classes at Veracruz University (in Mexico) and the Jagiellonian University (in Poland). He can be reached at jmurawski@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8932.
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