By Jon Delano

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Another week, another ground-breaking on another hospital building — this one at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side.

“Cancer care is one of our region’s biggest areas of need, and it’s one of the areas where we are going to invest more aggressively,” said Cynthia Hundorfean, CEO of the Allegheny Health Network. “We’re committed to helping patients and their families fight cancer on every front.”

Called the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute Academic Center at AGH, a new four-story, 90,000-square foot building will be constructed adjacent to the current hospital between the Sandusky Street parking garage and the AGH South Tower.

“Over the next two years, we will be hiring over 200 additional cancer care professionals and more than 20 physicians to support this facility and our community cancer centers,” said Dr. David Parda, chair of AHN Cancer Institute.

That’s in addition to the 200 doctors and 500 oncology professionals already on staff.

And it’s not just for the North Side hospital.

“The $80 million facility that we’re building at AGH is the hub of a highly-connected network,” noted Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, president of Allegheny General Hospital. “It’s part of a $225 million investment being made in AHN’s cancer program. The majority of this is in the communities, not here.”

Providing cancer services close to home is the goal, and Allegheny Health Network is planning to build new facilities in Monroeville, Butler, Beaver County, and Erie.

A key component of the cancer research and treatment is AHN’s special affiliation with Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

“The academic center will be a critical resource for the network’s expanding collaboration with the renowned Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, including studies that are happening today,” said Parda.

With 81,000 new cancer cases diagnosed in Pennsylvania alone this year, the need is great, said David Holmberg, CEO of Highmark Health. “This investment is about building for the generations of the future in this fight against cancer.”

But it does seem like we have a hospital ground-breaking every other day.

Remember UPMC’s three new hospitals, or Allegheny Health Network’s new hospital in Wexford, or the University of Pittsburgh – UPMC Immune Therapy & Treatment Center in Bloomfield?

The AHN Cancer Institute is just the latest.

“There is so much going on at AHN, it seems like we have a new investment to announce or a ground-breaking every week,” said Hundorfean.

But with all these new facilities, will there be a surplus of hospital beds, requiring patients to pay more to cover the cost of empty beds?

No, Allegheny Executive Rich Fitzgerald told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

“The model is different. It’s not about beds any more. It’s about treatment. It’s about the type of facility,” said Fitzgerald. “When AHN talks about there are 50 oncology facilities in western Pennsylvania, it’s not just about the beds. It’s not about the traditional treatment we knew decades ago. It’s really about the best and the brightest and the best technology.”

But let’s face it.

That technology, whether we are hospitalized or not, is being housed in brand new buildings, raising a question for Mayor Bill Peduto.

Delano: “Can we have too many hospitals in Pittsburgh?”

Peduto: “I don’t think so. I think, right now, what you are seeing is a growth of hospitals because medicine is becoming an import business for Pittsburgh. People are coming not only from throughout this region, from other states, but throughout this world in order to get care here that they can’t get anywhere else.”

And it’s that more than anything that makes meds here such a growth industry.

If all goes according to plan, the new Cancer Institute Academic Center at AGH will open in late 2019.

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