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St. David's, Methodist: $11M for Blood, Bones

Publication: Austin Business Journal, Austin

St. David’s HealthCare has partnered with Methodist Hospital in San Antonio to create the Austin area’s first blood cancer program and bone marrow transplant center.

The $11 million center will be at St. David’s South Austin Medical Center and is expected to handle 40 bone marrow transplants annually within five years. It will also provide inpatient treatment for more than 300 patients with blood disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma every year.

The benefits of a full bone marrow and hematology program inside of Austin are twofold. For Austin patients it greatly reduces the travel, hotel stays and missed work or school for patients and family members receiving treatment. And for the medical community, oncologists are more likely to stay in Austin instead of departing for other markets with a full selection of cancer treatment programs.

The first phase of the project — an outpatient clinic — opened in May, and construction of the complete transplant center is expected to be completed by May 2014.

The partnership with Methodist’s Texas Transplant Institute will let St. David’s build off of that hospital’s established expertise in treating blood cancers. The new facility will perform basic “native stem cell” transplants once it begins operation and gradually expand to more complex procedures using donated marrow sometime in its second year.

David Huffstutler, president and CEO of St. David’s, said discussions on the collaboration have been ongoing in recent years as Austin’s population has grown and more patients had to travel out of the market to health care systems in San Antonio, Dallas or Houston to get treatment.

“Everyone acknowledged we were getting to a critical mass size where we’d have the demand to support it,” he said. “We hadn’t been able to get the right players together. With Methodist there’s historic referral relationships, and with the establishment of a new bone marrow program they didn’t want to lose those patients.”

The partnership will also let the St. David’s program become fully accredited in one year instead of the three-plus years it would take a startup program to get up to speed.

The 24-bed unit will require staffing by lab personnel and oncology nurses as well as experienced oncologists who will perform procedures and take over the treatment of patients referred there by general practice physicians.

“It won’t lead to a large number of oncologists moving into the area, but I think it will keep those people in Austin,” said Dr. Laurence Tokaz, an oncologist at Texas Oncology and medical director of the new program. “This is something people have been talking about for a while but the last serious exploration before this was 15 years ago. Now hematology inpatient treatment is very unusual, and when you look at the size of [Austin] and the difficulty of travel to another program, it was time to restart those talks.”

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