Joining Ranks

A clinical alliance is formed to battle cancer

February, 2005

Tripler Army Medical Center cares for about 10 percent of the 5,000 people diagnosed with cancer in Hawaii each year. Thanks to a new $8.5 million federal appropriation, the nearly 800,000 people eligible to receive care at the only Army medical center in the Pacific will soon have access to state-of-the-art cancer treatments on par with Mainland comprehensive cancer centers.

The appropriation establishes a new collaborative clinical alliance between Tripler and the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii (CRCH) and is one of the key initiatives included in the $496.7 million earmarked for Hawaii in the Department of Defense’s $417 billion Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2005.

“We will have access to new drugs, treatments and clinical trials and … to national cancer studies and other resources to help us fulfill our desire to give our patients the best quality medical care,” says Capt. Kevin Berry, Tripler’s deputy commander for clinical services, who oversees its medical staff of 500 military physicians and specialists.

Berry says Tripler, in turn, brings more than 55 years of providing medical care to active-duty service members of all military branches and their eligible families, military eligible retirees and their families, veterans and residents from many Pacific Island nations, including American Samoa, Johnston Atoll, Guam and Japan. It also boasts the Pacific Regional Medical Command’s premier teaching medical center and some 229 beds, which represent 10 percent of Oahu’s hospital beds.

Having the largest military medical treatment facility in the Pacific included in the Clinical Cancer Care Partnership envisioned by CRCH is “a major step in helping to create the first comprehensive cancer center in Hawaii,” says CRCH Director Dr. Carl-Wilhelm Vogel.

The research- and outreach-focused CRCH is one of 60 cancer centers nationwide designated by the National Cancer Institute, but has lacked the clinical treatment component that would elevate it to a comprehensive cancer center. Such centers administer the majority of “cutting-edge” cancer treatments and clinical trials offering new drugs. Having access to such a center can translate into lives saved, as studies show between 40 percent and 50 percent of cancer patients will not be cured by today’s standards of treatments.

A remedy is on the way for Hawaii’s cancer patients, starting with CRCH’s new 5.5-acre facility in Kakaako, planned as part of the University of Hawaii expansion. Outpatient services, with improved clinical research, will take up 125,000 of the proposed 350,000-square-foot facility, but there will be “no beds,” says Vogel. That’s where the new partnership comes in. As recommended by the 2002 Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Cancer Care in Hawaii, such a partnership represents “the most cost-effective, efficient way” to translate lab research into clinical trial treatments by placing a comprehensive cancer care center near existing hospitals equipped to provide necessary support services.

Already on board are the Hawaii Pacific Health System, the merger of Straub Clinic and Hospital, Wilcox Health and Kapiolani Health that created one of the state’s largest health care providers; and Hawaii Health Systems Corp., the state’s 12-member community hospital system and the nation’s fourth-largest public hospital system. Other major civilian health care facilities have expressed interest in participating, says Vogel.

Joining ranks with the military to battle cancer is a timely smart strategy with development of the new cancer center moving forward. The CRCH recently got more federal funding, $10 million, for planning and architectural design. Vogel says 15 development teams are bidding to build the cancer center with private funds and the University of Hawaii should select a developer by March 31.

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Gail Miyasaki