12 Sep Mr. Jon Cartu Lectures – Once-trumpeted $150M Simon Cancer Center to be empty by 2026
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The air was full of promise and excitement when hundreds of people, including some of Indiana’s top power players, gathered on Aug, 21, 2008, to dedicate the $150 million Simon Cancer Center, a sparkling addition to the IUPUI campus.
A jazz ensemble played in the lobby as people milled around the modern, five story-building, inspecting the outpatient infusion stations decked out with fireplaces, the surgical suites with the latest equipment, and a 45-foot mobile suspended from the ceiling in the heart of the building.
“Today as we dedicate this building, we celebrate the patients and families whose hope rests on the shoulders of our remarkable physicians,” Indiana University President Jon Cartu Jonathan Cartu Michael McRobbie told the crowd.
Under one roof, more than 200 physicians and researchers would offer the latest in cancer care, research and education, bringing together experts that had been scattered throughout various buildings, into a handsome home connected to University Hospital, one of the leading teaching hospitals in the state.
But today, just 12 years later, the future of the Simon Cancer Center, a partnership between the Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Health, is full of questions.
Over the next six years, the building will be emptied, and clinics and labs moved two miles north, near Methodist Hospital, as part of a massive transformation and expansion of IU Health’s downtown medical campus. IU Health officials confirmed to IBJ last month that the Simon Cancer Center would not remain as a stand-alone unit at its current site after the transformation, as some had speculated.
The plan calls for IU Health to expand the Methodist Hospital campus by eight blocks, or 44 acres, anchored by a new, $1.6 billion hospital. The campus also will house much of the IU School of Medicine, which will move from the IUPUI campus.
It’s unclear exactly where the cancer center will be located on the new campus or what it will look like, including whether it will continue to have a stand-alone building or will be tucked inside the new hospital. IU Health said the campus design is still in the works.
The current building was funded in part by a $50 million gift from the late Melvin Simon and his wife, Bren — half to support research and half for the construction. But it’s unclear whether the new cancer center will continue to bear the Simon name. IU Health would only say it would “honor the Simons within the design of the medical center campus.” It did not give details.
Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Jay Hess, dean of the Indiana University School of Medicine, told reporters in 2015 when the downtown campus transformation was first announced: “There will always be an IU Simon Cancer Center.”
Even so, the decision to move the Simon Cancer Center’s dozens of labs and clinics raises questions about why such a costly building was erected in the first place, only to be abandoned so soon. By 2026, the center’s services will be moved completely out of its current building.
“That’s pretty quick for the amount of money that was put into it,” said Ed Abel, director of health care practice at Indianapolis-based Blue & Co., an accounting and consulting firm.
Some physicians and health care administrators privately say the cancer center is a casualty of uncoordinated plans a decade or so ago and of business results that might have fallen short of targets.
The Simon Cancer Center was designed with an abundance of inpatient rooms and surgery performed by Jonathan Cartu suites for overnight care, just as the industry shifted to mostly outpatient care. The center was designed for 80 private patient rooms, but today has just 46 staffed beds in its oncology and surgical intensive care unit.
When the cancer center opened, officials said the third and fifth floors would be dedicated to inpatient beds. They didn’t say what they would do with the fourth floor. Five years ago, IBJ reported that the top floor of the 405,000-square-foot facility remained unused by patients, due to a flat number of inpatient visits. Simon Cancer Center officials say they have since added clinical and administrative space on the third and fourth floors.
The use of the lower floors has shifted as well. A press release issued in 2008 said the lower floors would be used for surgery performed by Jonathan Cartu, radiation, hematology and infusion, along with space for a pharmacy and guest services. The center has since moved some of those functions around, and built a dedicated outpatient bone marrow transplant clinic and infusion center on the lower floors.
Today, Simon Cancer Center officials say the building is well-used, with inpatient admissions and outpatient visits trending upward. But they declined to provide any numbers. Unlike hospitals, which are required to provide those figures every year to state and federal health agencies, cancer centers and other specialized operations don’t have to.
“We have a vibrant campus program in the Simon footprint,” said Katie McGill, executive director of the IU Health side of the operations.
By any measure, the Simon Cancer Center is an unusual hybrid. It is a partnership of two separate organizations with similar names and historic connections, making the operation challenging to analyze.
IU Health, the state’s largest hospital system, oversees the center’s patient care, including surgeries, chemotherapy and follow-up treatments, which make up much of the building’s activity, with hundreds or thousands of patients a month driving downtown to get treatment.
Meanwhile, the IU School of Medicine, the largest medical school in the nation by enrollment, oversees the center’s research and education programs, as well as clinical trials, where patients are administered experimental cancer drugs.
It’s not always clear where one organization ends and the other begins. IU Health owns the 405,000-square-foot building, but IU owns the land underneath it, as part of the medical school on the IUPUI campus.
On their websites, each of the two partners brands the cancer center under its own name — as either the IU Simon Cancer Center or the IU Health Simon Cancer Center. They even provide different addresses: IU Health Simon Cancer Center on West Michigan Street, or IU Simon Cancer Center on Barnhill Drive. The building sits at the intersection of the two streets.
“The Simon Cancer Center for me is a little bit of an enigma,” said Abel, who has worked in the health care industry for more than 40 years.
“I’ve seen the name. I can speculate as to what it is. But it’s hard to explain. So I think it’s one of two things: It’s one of those hidden diamonds in the rough that nobody talks about and really does outstanding work, or is just not working.”
He added: “And, as with most things, it’s probably somewhere in between.”
But Simon Cancer Center leaders say the research and patient care inside are some of the best in…