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October 29, 2020

Central Maine Healthcare breaks ground for Lewiston cancer center

A man stands at a lectern while others sit on chairs nearby the wall behind him says central maine healthcare Photo / Maureen Milliken Jeff Brickman, CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, addresses the audience on the site where the health care system's new cancer center will be built during a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday. At right is U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Construction will start Monday on a $38 million cancer center expected to "be a life-saving difference" for residents of the county with one of Maine's highest cancer rates. 

Central Maine Healthcare this morning held a ceremony on its Lewiston campus in the parking lot where the 52,000-square foot building will go up, celebrating an achievement that's been decades in the making, hospital officials said.

The center "brings together comprehensive cutting edge oncology care from diagnosis to treatment in one consolidated facility that allows for coordinated care in a way that we've never been able to provide before," said the health care system's CEO, Jeff Brickman.

"This is a momentous day, it's a milestone for this first-of-a-kind health care project, and for our drive to provide world-class care close to home for the people in Maine who we serve."

Brickman lauded the CMH team, including oncology doctors who have pushed for a better overall approach to care. Because of them, and the system's board of directors, "We can change the face of how health care is delivered within the state of Maine," he said.

The center will consolidate radiation oncology, medical oncology and surgical oncology departments under one roof, as well as other specialties, including therapy, diagnostics, financial and nurse navigators. The project the culmination of years of planning to combine oncology services, which are scattered across the Central Maine Medical Center downtown Lewiston campus, some as far as three football fields away from each other.

The center will also allow the addition of two new linear accelerators, which provide advanced radiation treatment. The old space didn't have room for the new technology.

Steve Littleson, president of CMMC, noted that it's been 10 years since a new building was constructed on the campus. The cancer center will replace "aging buildings that don't support much advancement in technology."

The hospital's oncology-related services have close to 43,000 patient visits a year, Littleson said. That means the staff is seeing an average of 36 cancer patients an hour, year-round. Androscoggin County has some of the highest rates of cancer in the state, and Maine itself has some of the highest in the country, officials said.

"We know that one in four Mainers will face a cancer diagnoses in their lifetime, with over 8,000 being newly diagnosed each year. Maine is the 12th-highest state for cancer mortality in the country," he said. "Our objective with this new awesome facility it to put a serious dent in those numbers."

Not easy or inevitable

In the late 1970s, CMMC launched a cancer treatment program, under the supervision of medical oncologist Dr. Donna Thompson. "You could say the rest is history," said Dr. Nicholette Erickson, a CMMC oncologist. "Which of course is true, but that suggests that the development of a cancer program was both easy and inevitable. And of course, it was anything but easy or inevitable."

Erickson, who's been with the hospital since 1994, spoke of the achievements and efforts Thompson made over the years. Having Thompson stand up to the applause of the audience, Erickson said, "We would not be here today without her."

The center will be built on High Street, at the corner of Holland Street and next to CMMC's main entrance. It's expected to be completed in mid-2022.

In the audience were Nathan and David Batemen, of Bateman Partners LLC, developer of the cancer center. Bateman Partners will own the cancer center and lease it to CMH. The firm also built CMH's Topsham Care Center and its Lewiston urgent care center, which opened in March, and is the developer of a Topsham ambulatory care center that's under construction. The architect is MBH Architects, which has offices in New York and San Francisco.

Also speaking at the ceremony were Dr. Hector Tarraza, chief of the oncology institute at CMMC; U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Deborah Dunlap Avasthi, CMH board chair. U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and Gov. Janet Mills weighed in with video remarks.

The cancer center, the Topsham and Lewiston urgent care centers and the Topsham ambulatory care center are all part of the health care system's ongoing effort to consolidate services and make health care costs cheaper to provide, and cheaper for patients, CMH said.

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