Report highlights UH Cancer Center struggles

University of Hawaii Cancer Center, Kakaako


A report critical of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center is leading to a call at the State Legislature to either sell or lease the research facility.

A report, prepared by a task force and released Monday, views the center as a “world-class, state-of-the-art facility located on the prized Kakaako waterfront.”

The center opened its doors there in 2013 after moving from a small, five-story structure in downtown Honolulu. The center was established in 1981.

The report says shortly after the center expanded to Kakaako, the administration began to drain its financial reserves at an alarming rate. Mortgage payments alone account for 25 percent of the center’s operating budget.

The report also noted that when other financial problems are taken together, “recovering from these losses is a major obstacle to the future success of the center.”

The report also focused on management of the center. It says the structure and process of the facility’s previous administration was “confusing, relatively expensive, ill-defined, top-heavy and top-down…”

Officials with the university’s flagship Manoa campus are working on a new business model for the center, which they hope to complete by the end of March.

KHON2 asked chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman whether Manoa officials would consider taking more control of the center to do what’s necessary to save the research facility. Bley-Vroman says two things give him the confidence that the center is, and will be, in good hands.

“One, the center is under good interim leadership under (John A. Burns School of Medicine) dean Jerris Hedges,” said Bley-Vroman. “The other is that we will soon be looking for a new director, but I can’t give you a timeline on that.”

In response to the report, Hedges released the following statement:

“These are challenging times for the faculty, staff and supporters of the Cancer Center. The Cancer Center is making significant contributions to the health of cancer patients and their families in Hawaii. The medical school will work with the Chancellor and President to develop a plan to sustain the great work of the Cancer Center.”

KHON2 also asked Bley-Vroman if the report shed any new light on the management of the previous administrator, Michele Carbone, who resigned last November.

“The report is not an investigation nor an audit of the center,” said Bley-Vroman. “It focuses on what needs to be done to move forward.”

Rep. Isaac Choy, D-Manoa, chairman of the state House committee on higher education, has long had concerns about the center. He proposes to either sell or lease the facility and he wants Bley-Vroman to shift his focus to cutting back expenses at the center.

“Hopefully, he is not trying to rearrange the chairs on the Titanic,” Choy said. “He needs to address the hole on the ship. He needs to repair the deficit and not just look for more funding.”

An educator at the center told KHON2 that perhaps officials have an unrealistic view of the center.

“There is this image that we could be one of the premier cancer centers in the country,” said Dr. Lynne Wilkens, “but many of those centers have big private endowments.”

Choy’s proposal to either sell or lease the center will be heard in his committee at the state legislature on Feb. 10.

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