November 30, 2021

GCMC planning to build oncology center

In spring 2020, Guthrie Cortland Hospital plans to begin construction on a new oncology center, according to Catherine Cramer, manager of corporate communications for Guthrie.

No further details — regarding size, projected cost or estimated opening date — were offered, other than that Guthrie officials are “in the process of finalizing our plans,” Lisa Grazul, Guthrie’s vice president of operations and oncology services, said in a statement.

Cortland currently has one facility that provides oncology services — Radiation Oncology Services in Cortlandville run by Dr. Michael Fallon. Fallon, who did not return a phone message seeking comment, has previously expressed concern that a new oncology center could negatively affect his business.

The closest cancer centers outside of Cortland, which also provides radiation treatment, are located in Syracuse, Binghamton and Ithaca.

The idea of building an oncology center in Cortland dates back to at least 2016 and is closely connected with the hospital’s affiliation with Guthrie.

In 2016, the then-Cortland Regional Medical Center announced a plan to build a $13 million cancer treatment center and medical office building on Homer Avenue; that plan, which never materialized, would have included a $6 million radiation therapy machine.

In 2017, then-hospital President Mark Webster said a $7 million integrated cancer center, similar to the one at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, would be beneficial to Cortland, but the cost made it prohibitive without the help of an outside entity.

On Jan. 1, 2019, the local hospital entered into a formal affiliation with a larger outside entity — Guthrie, headquartered in Sayre, Pennsylvania — and was renamed Guthrie Cortland Medical Center. Guthrie also said it would invest $100 million in the hospital over the next five years.

Catherine Feuerherm, director of the Cortland County Health Department, had a positive view of the hospital opening an oncology center.

“Undergoing cancer treatment is a taxing experience — both physically and emotionally,” said Feuerherm. “Reducing travel time will make that easier.”

In Feuerherm’s view, another oncology facility in the Cortland area would be a clear boon to cancer patients because of accessibility. It would also help increase the number of cancer screenings, especially among the uninsured, she said. The county health department runs a cancer screening program that offsets the cost of such screenings for the uninsured, she said. The addition of a new place for these screenings to occur would only boost the number of people getting them, she said.

“We support any efforts of the hospital to bring cancer services closer to home,” Feuerherm said.