Backers of a hugely expensive proposed proton beam cancer treatment facility in Jamaica, Queens, are pinning their hopes of winning the necessary state approvals on ties to several powerful local politicians.
Currently the New York State Department of Health is reviewing three competing proposals for a proton beam facility in the area, including two in New York City.
Proton beam technology allows radiation to be emitted in precisely focused cancer-killing doses, but the cost of building and equipping such a facility is more than $200 million. The cost is so prohibitive that currently there are only eight such centers in the U.S.
The leading contender is a consortium of several of the city's leading hospitals: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, NYU Langone Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian. They are pitching a $227 million facility proposed for West 57th Street in Manhattan. The hospitals will provide some equity, with additional financing arranged by their partner 21st Century Oncology, a national developer and operator of about 100 radiation therapy centers.
A second contender is Vassar Brothers Medical Center, which hopes to join with New York-Presbyterian to open a $201 million proton-beam center upstate in Fishkill, N.Y.
A $273 million center proposed for the former site of Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens is the most controversial of the three, in part because of its heavy reliance on political muscle to carry the day. Officially known as The Proton Therapy Cancer Center of New York, or TPTCC NY, its backers are negotiating with the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System and SUNY Downstate Medical Center about a clinical affiliation with the proposed center.
But against overwhelming competition from its Manhattan rival, the consortium of New York's most prestigious medical centers, the Queens project ranks as the distinct underdog in the race for approval.
To improve its odds, TPTCC NY has enlisted the aid of three politicians. For openers, TPTCC NY is behind a Senate bill (S8419), sponsored by Sen. Majority Leader John Sampson of Brooklyn, that would make the state approve more than one of the three projects. Referred to the Senate rules committee on June 30, the bill reads “the operation of more than one demonstration site in a large city will better allow the Department of Health to test the efficacy, safety and cost-effectiveness of proton beam therapy. Furthermore, estimated demand for such services exceeds maximum capacity for a single site.”
The Queens project has other politicians on its side. Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Ed Towns are supporting a controversial plan to help it raise capital. Its backers filed a request with the Department of Homeland Security to raise $250 million using the federal EB 5 foreign investment program. Under the proposal, 500 foreign investors will each put up $500,000, and as a result, if all conditions are met, will get permanent U.S. residency in return.
Last month, Mr. Schumer wrote a letter to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in support of this proposal "to raise $250 million of foreign investment to construct a much-needed groundbreaking cancer treatment facility in New York City that will create an estimated 2,800 jobs and save countless American lives."