Drop in state funds will not stop Hampton University Cancer Treatment Center

The state budget approved by the General Assembly in mid-March included $490,000 for the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute, less than half of the $1 million the center was originally supposed to receive from the state. With construction complete, its high-tech equipment being calibrated, and the first patients set to be treated at the $225 million facility in August, reports of another funding hiccup recently came to light.

The Daily Press reported on March 18 that the city of Hampton is unlikely to live up to its pledge to give Hampton University $10 million over a 10-year period, more than $5 million of which was expected to go to the Proton Therapy Institute. The Hampton City Council did approve about $1.3 million for the institute.

The institute fortunately wasn’t betting on government funding to get up and running. HU President William Harvey said the $225 million needed to build, equip, staff and open what is to be the seventh proton therapy center in the United States, was made possible through financing secured from SunTrust, PNC Bank and the floating of bonds with the help of JPMorgan.

In addition to the $1.3 million, the city gave HU the 5.5 acres of land the proton center sits on. Harvey said the center has also received $20 million in federal funding.

But the $1 million from the state is a subject of great contention for Harvey.

The Virginia General Assemby, Harvey said, has been “woefully inadequate” in its support of HUPTI. The facility will be added to the small list of such centers that use a proton beam generated by a mini-particle accelerator to target cancerous tissue without harming the surrounding healthy tissue.

The technology is gaining steam worldwide because it doesn’t have the side effects traditionally associated with radiation treatment.

Members of the General Assembly have not stepped up to the plate as other state governments have in funding proton therapy technologies, Harvey argues.

“Every state that has one, their general assemblies have given at least $10 million,” he said. “Why the other state members are so enlightened and ours do not seem to be, I don’t know.”

“I’m not talking about any kind of handout,” he said. “This is medicine and economics. We rank very high on both of those.”

“That’s why I don’t sugar-coat it. I praise the city, I praise the federal government. And I talk about the fact that the state hasn’t stepped up to the plate.”

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