Hilo hospital moves ahead with plans for new radiation therapy machine


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hilo Medical Center administrators expect to have a recommendation by mid-March concerning whether they should construct a new building or renovate the old one that houses the hospital’s radiation therapy machine.

HMC intends to replace the linear accelerator at Hawaii Pacific Oncology Center on Waianuenue Avenue with a $4.66 million updated model.

The machine is used to treat cancer, by targeting malignant tumors with a series of small, controlled bursts of radiation that can kill the cells.

While HMC was in early preparations before purchasing the new machine, hospital physicists in 2011 discovered two leaks in the heavy vault surrounding the current linear accelerator. At first, there was some concern that the leaks may have resulted in the exposure to radiation of Veterans Affairs workers in the office above, or pedestrians along a wall at the rear of the building, but further study by independent sources found that any such exposure would have been below acceptable levels.

Currently, the hospital is awaiting responses to a request for proposals it has solicited from contractors, said Julie-Beth Ako, hospital systems services director at HMC.

“The hospital is evaluating two methods of getting … the linear accelerator installed,” she said. “The first is construction of a new building. However, because of concerns that a new building would exceed the funding we had available for an effort like that, we also put out a (request for proposals) for renovation of the existing vault.”

The plans called for a new building’s cost to remain below $3.6 million, she said.

Either of the two options — a brand new vault, or a renovation project — would address the previous issues that allowed for the possibility of radiation escaping the vault, she said.

“We anticipate having the evaluations done by no later than mid-March,” she said.

Ako could not say how long either option would take from beginning to completion, as not all the contractor proposals have been submitted yet. She did say that should a new building be constructed, there would be little impact to continuing patient care.

However, a renovation project could require the hospital to make arrangements for patients to be treated elsewhere during parts of the process, she said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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