The fight is not over

“I don’t think it ends here. I think it’s too important an issue for us to let go.” That was the message from Marshalltown Medical & Surgical Center CEO John Hughes following the recent decision by the State Health Facilities Council to deny a certificate of need for a new cancer treatment center.

Disappointing, frustrating and for so many, heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking, in part, because of the weak argument against granting Marshalltown a certificate of need for a cancer facility was mainly a matter of distance.

“It’s too close to Ames,” claimed Council Chairman Bill Thatcher of Fort Dodge. “The services available [at Mary Greeley Medical Center] are good, high quality services.”

And Brian Dieter, the CEO of Mary Greeley, suggested their services would be compromised if they lost patients from Marshall County.

“It is not needed,” he argued.

We wonder, however, if Thatcher would feel the same way if Fort Dodge, which has a cancer facility with radiation therapy services, was the same distance away from Ames as is Marshalltown (Fort Dodge is roughly 60 miles away from Ames, whereas Marshalltown is about 40 miles from Ames) and denied an opportunity to serve Fort Dodge-area cancer patients.

Those 40 miles may not be mean much for Chairman Thatcher and other members of the council, but to those battling cancer, the effort and the time spent away from home can be a true hardship.

Ask Karen Frohwein, a two-time breast cancer survivor, who detailed how she had to travel 36 times to Des Moines for her radiation treatments.

“I lost three hours a day just for a five-minute treatment session,” she said.

During the council meeting, it was suggested, in an almost cavalier manner, that perhaps a shuttle bus could transport Marshalltown cancer patients back and forth for treatment.

By all means, let’s just load up patients on a bus as if they were going for some recreational day trip to Ames or Des Moines. We’re not talking about some casual excursion out of town; we’re talking about human beings whose lives are on hold because of the devastating effects of cancer.

And there doesn’t seem to be any consistency in terms of this supposed distance rule. If indeed Marshalltown is too close to Ames, why are radiation services allowed in Clinton and nearby Davenport (approximately 40 miles apart)? And why did the facilities council this past April also approve radiation therapy at St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids – just six blocks away from Mercy Hospital – another provider of radiation therapy.

There was also the council’s contention that they were trying to be good stewards of additional tax dollars being spent.

But MMSC is not supported by any tax dollars. Where does this idea come from that issuing a certificate of need and offering a facility with radiation therapy services would impact taxpayers?

Did the council even review Marshalltown’s application?

If they did, they should have known that nine other Iowa communities smaller than Marshalltown offer radiation treatment, including Burlington, Carroll, Clinton, Creston, Fort Dodge, Mason City, Ottumwa, Shenandoah and Spencer.

Many of these communities have less incidents of cancer compared to Marshalltown.

And like Marshalltown, each of these nine communities serves as a regional commercial hub for the surrounding area. MMSC serves a variety of clients from Marshalltown, Marshall County and other nearby communities like Tama and Toledo.

There are larger communities in Iowa – Ames, Cedar Rapids, Davenport, Des Moines, Iowa City and Waterloo – that also have cancer treatment facilities with radiation services – again, the closest being Ames (80 miles round trip).

Hughes said the hospital will again, most likely sometime in 2015, submit an application for a certificate of need from the facilities council.

At that time, the council, which serves at the pleasure of the governor, should seriously review Marshalltown’s application. If the council should again nix the idea of a radiation treatment facility in Marshalltown, then we need to put pressure on the governor to appoint people to the facilities council who will thoughtfully and carefully look at Marshalltown’s application instead of rolling their eyes and ignoring the mountain of evidence that supports radiation services here.

We recognize that battling cancer is never easy and too often, many cancer patients have to battle the disease multiple times before they can claim victory.

Perhaps that’s the case with obtaining this most important certificate of need; perhaps it will take multiple applications and thousands more of letters of support. If so, we’ll do it.

Because in the end, we know the fight against this dreaded disease has claimed too many lives and caused too much heartache. But we also know that the human spirit is strong and together we will continue this fight because it’s the right thing to do.