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Cancer patients in Hanover County could find themselves without a local treatment center due to a lease dispute between Bon Secours and the VCU Massey Cancer Center at Hanover Medical Park.
According to Dr. Mitchell Anscher, of the VCU Massey Cancer Center, Bon Secours notified the center in January that they would have to vacate the premises by April. This came after the Massey Center tried to purchase the Bon Secours-owned facility as part of its lease-purchase option. The center has provided radiation therapy out of Memorial Regional Medical Center in Mechanicsville for 20 years and sees an estimated 200-300 patients annually. Approximately 10 employees work at the Massey Center in Hanover, as well.
According to Dr. Christopher Johnson, who has been with the Massey Center’s Hanover branch for the past 19 years, most of the center’s patients come from Hanover and surrounding, underserved counties.
“If you draw a line along [Interstate 95] going south to the James River and then go east, it’s sort of that wedge of the Richmond area that we serve,” Johnson said. “It’s a large rural population.”
For Anscher, the unexpected move has him puzzled.
“I’m not an attorney but I have a hard time figuring out, what is the potential benefit to the patients by taking that approach?” Anscher said. “We’re just little guys here to take care of cancer patients.”
“We’ve been here for 20 years and we’ve done a good job, so why they would want to throw us out, it just doesn’t make any sense,” he added.
While he is unsure, what, in particular, put the wheels in motion, Anscher did describe the Massey Center’s relationship with Bon Secours as “up and down.”
“I think they’d like to see us go, but I think that we’ve always tried to keep a good professional relationship with them in terms of patient care,” he said. “We’re not trying to antagonize them in any way; we’re just trying to take care of the patients.”
Johnson said the Massey Center plays an active role in supporting Bon Secours’ cancer program. Radiation services are integral in accrediting such programs.
“I’ve played a role in that,” Johnson said. “We actively try to support their program.”
If the center is shut down, Massey Center patients would be referred to other centers in either downtown or metro-Richmond locations. At best, it would be inconvenient for the center’s existing patients. At worst, it could affect their prognoses.
“If we were to close and people were in the middle of treatment, that would be really disruptive,” Anscher said. “There are some types of cancers where delays in treatment are associated with worse outcomes. So, it could be potentially life threatening to some patients.”
In a counterclaim filed with Hanover Circuit Court Feb. 19, lawyers representing Bon Secours argued that terminating the lease would not adversely affect patient care because of the close proximity of other Massey treatment centers.
Court documents also show that the two entities disagreed over the Massey Center’s proposed purchase price of $215,826. Bon Secours lawyers called for a higher sum of “not less than $1,079,967.” Bon Secours also claimed that both parties were subject to first offer the property for sale to RHS Management Corporation, which holds a “Right of First Refusal” on the medical complex.
Calls to a Bon Secours spokesman for further comment were not returned as of presstime.
Anscher said the Massey Center tried to comply with a timeline to officially notify Bon Secours of their intention to buy their building. They began the process by having the building appraised. What followed was sparse communication back and forth leading up to Bon Secours’ notice to the center that they had until April to relocate.
“It was all a little bit strange in my opinion,” Anscher said. “If they wanted to throw us out they should have just said that from day one and not go through all the motions.”
Anscher presumes that Bon Secours wants to implement its own radiation oncology facility. The problem with that, according to Johnson, is that it takes time.
“It’s not a simple thing to just switch over, we shut down and then all of a sudden there being something else there,” Johnson said. “If they decide they want to do this, there’s going to be a gap of at least a year where there are no radiation therapy services available in this area.”
Bon Secours would have to apply to the state to obtain a certificate of public need before being able to operate radiation therapy services in Mechanicsville as well, according to Anscher.
The current treatment facility’s radiation therapy room has three-foot thick, poured concrete walls, which are hard to find, making any potential relocation of the Massey Center in the immediate area improbable.
“Our main concern is for the patients,” Anscher said, adding, “This is all going on at 30,000 feet but it has implications for real people.”
Going forward, Anscher hopes that as word gets out about the possible closure of the Massey Center’s Hanover branch, those affected will make their objections known. Overall, he hopes that rational minds will come together to find some agreement.
“We’re hoping that clearer heads will prevail and we’ll be allowed to continue to practice at this site,” Anscher said. “That’s the assumption at this point: This will be resolved and it will be business as usual.”