UChicago Medicine, a prominent South Side health system, wants to build an estimated $633 million hospital dedicated to cancer care on its Hyde Park campus.
Health system officials say the new center would create a more seamless experience for patients who now might have to trek from building to building for everything from doctor visits to chemotherapy to scans.
The new facility also would free up space elsewhere on UChicago’s campus for non-cancer patients who have complex diseases and health conditions, such as those who have had organ transplants or a traumatic injury. The system’s flagship hospital, the University of Chicago Medical Center, is a regional destination, and it’s often nearly full.
“We need more space,” said Dr. Kunle Odunsi, director of the health system’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “It’s very clear to us. In fact, the COVID pandemic really revealed that to us more than anything else, that we need more capacity to be able to care for our cancer and non-cancer patients.”
The new center could help boost access to medical care in a region where hospitals and services have vanished over the years. The South Side is considered a health care desert, with “alarming access gaps,” according to a local study published last year. Access to specialists was “completely imbalanced” with the rest of Chicago, the study found.
Yet the need for this level of medical care is dire. For cancer in particular, the South Side is home to communities with some of the highest rates of people diagnosed with and dying of this disease in the entire city, according to the Chicago Health Atlas. In fact, many of these neighborhoods surround UChicago Medicine.
The shortage of services has forced patients to go elsewhere for care. In 2020, 67% of adult cancer patients who live on the South Side left the area for treatment, according to UChicago’s cancer hospital application to Illinois regulators.
A teaching and research hub, UChicago Medicine is the biggest health care system by far on the South Side. Most other hospitals in the area are so-called safety nets that treat mostly low-income and elderly Black patients, and these hospitals often struggle to survive.
The proposed seven-story cancer hospital would be built along East 57th Street, across the street from U of C Medical Center’s busy adult emergency department.
The facility would house outpatient and inpatient care under one roof, with 128 hospital beds. There would be 100 exam rooms, imaging and infusion services, genetic testing and counseling, and urgent care for cancer patients.
The new hospital would focus on finding cancer early through screenings, and research aggressive forms of cancer that affect South Side residents and other communities of color across the U.S., according to the health system.
UChicago estimates the new hospital would be able to expand access for patients. The health system envisions around 200,000 outpatient visits a year, compared to about 120,000 currently, and admitting about 5,000 patients to the hospital a year compared to about 3,800 now.
The Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board, which regulates the hospital industry to prevent duplication of services, must approve UChicago Medicine’s proposal.
The health system plans to initially ask the board for permission to design and plan the cancer hospital. If approved, construction is estimated to begin in 2023, and the hospital would open to patients three years later.
Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Cook County for WBEZ’s government and politics desk. Follow her on Twitter @kschorsch.