Contrary to "An affront to cancer sufferers" (March 12) by Dr. Irv Lerner, the moratorium on the construction of new radiation facilities in the Twin Cities does have patients in mind.

Radiation-therapy services provided in Minnesota hospitals ensure integrated care -- at their hospitals and in their clinics. Hospital-based radiation facilities serve both outpatients and those hospitalized, without requiring an expensive and unnecessary ambulance ride.

Cancer patients often have other health issues that can all be managed under one roof with a full-service facility.

HealthEast Cancer Care is affiliated with HealthEast's four local community hospitals (St. John's, St. Joseph's, Woodwinds and Bethesda). A nonprofit system, HealthEast serves all residents, regardless of payment source or ability to pay.

Economic theory suggests that competition should reduce costs -- but only when there's a level playing field.

Minnesota's tradition of nonprofit health care focuses on community hospitals that provide care for their communities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and that have highly trained staff and medical technology to handle any health catastrophe that comes in through the emergency room as well as serve nonemergency patients.

We provide these services within our nonprofit mission to all patients.

Freestanding centers have the option of referring back to our hospitals patients who lack the ability to pay. They are not open to patients 24/7 and don't carry the costs associated with emergency, home, hospice or hospital care in support of both patients and their loved ones.

We agree with Dr. Lerner and the American Cancer Society that we need to ensure that adequate capacity for radiation therapy exists to serve projected increased demand into the future.

Every study conducted has shown that the existing radiation therapy units have considerable additional capacity available. To not fully utilize this very expensive technology ($1 million for the vault to house the unit alone) would be irresponsible on the part of our policymakers and health care providers.

Without expanding the number of radiation machines in the Twin Cities east metro, HealthEast Cancer Care plans to give more access to radiation therapy services closer to home by moving one of its linear accelerators from one HealthEast Hospital (St. John's Hospital in Maplewood) to another HealthEast hospital (Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury). HealthEast Cancer Care is already serving the largest number of cancer patients in the Woodwinds primary service area, and this move will give these patients better access to treatment.

We urge state lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton to continue the moratorium on radiation therapy facilities. It helps keep health care costs down and helps serve all cancer patients, regardless of their ability to pay.


Steve Kolar is senior vice president and chief medical officer of HealthEast Care System in St. Paul.