(WTRF) The Ohio Valley will soon benefit from a new, comprehensive, regional cancer center that the WVU Health System and the WV Cancer Institute plan to build on the site of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center in Center Wheeling.

The project, made possible by a partnership among the Health System, the City of Wheeling, and the Ohio County Commission, will take up to five years to complete and is subject to certain government approvals.

“Our mission is to ensure people have convenient access to our network of care, especially cancer care, and the specialists and subspecialists who are the backbone of that network,” Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System, said. “This project will enhance that access while also serving as a major catalyst for further economic growth and development in the City of Wheeling.”

With the second-highest cancer mortality rate in the United States, West Virginia’s most common cancer diagnoses are female breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, and colon and rectum cancer. The WV Cancer Institute typically diagnoses approximately 1,200 cancer cases each year in the Wheeling region.

“The needs are legendary,” Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, M.D., surgical oncologist and director of the WV Cancer Institute, said. “This new center will become a critical part of the WV Cancer Institute’s integrated network of cancer care across the state and region and will be connected to a broader team of cancer specialists and subspecialists for consultations and expert opinions.”

With cancer-specific tumor boards, the WVU Cancer Institute takes a multi-disciplinary team approach to each cancer case that a team of experts reviews. Although still very early in the planning stages, the center will likely offer medical oncology, radiation oncology, and mammography services; a melanoma center; a specialty pharmacy; telemedicine capabilities; multi-disciplinary tumor boards; and academic research facilities.

“This new center will be a game-changer for the region and the city of Wheeling both in terms of the delivery of cancer care and economic development,” Douglass E. Harrison, president, and CEO of WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital and Reynolds Memorial Hospital, said. “This is more then a new cancer center; it is a commitment to the city and the surrounding region that WVU Medicine and the WVU Cancer Institute will be around for many years to be your healthcare partners.”

Wright, Harrison, and Hazard-Jenkins envision a four-story facility that is somewhere between 75,000 and 90,000 square feet in Wheeling.

With an expected workforce of 150 employees, the new center will employ cancer doctors, advanced practice providers, nurses, medical assistants, schedulers, dietitians, social workers, and facility professionals. It is estimated that the facility will generate 40,000 patient visits per year.

The City of Wheeling, the owner of the former Ohio Valley Medical Center (OVMC), will be a critical partner in the project. The WV Health System will raze the buildings at the OVMC site, and the City will donate all of the shovel-ready parcels to the System.

Both the City of Wheeling and Ohio County will fund the majority of the former hospital’s demolition.

“This project is going to be transformational: not only will it transform the delivery of cancer care in our region, but it will also change the economic landscape of the Centre Market area, downtown Wheeling, and the city as a whole,” Robert Herron, the City of Wheeling’s city manager, said. “I would like to thank the leadership of WVU Medicine for their vision and commitment to the well-being of our citizens and for initiating such a worthwhile endeavor.”

The Ohio County Commissioners are pleased to be a part of the project.

“The construction of a state-of-the-art cancer center at the former OVMC location will not only transform that part of town but will positively impact patient care for residents in Ohio County and in the region,” Commission President Randy Wharton said. “In addition, the facility will bring many employment opportunities to our area and will have a very significant economic impact. It has been a pleasure working with the City of Wheeling and WU Medicine on this project. This is a great example of what can occur when entities in the community share vision and commitment.”

Members of the Wheeling City Council are thankful for the partnership of the three entities.

“The closure of OVMC was a travesty for our community and, since then, the City has worked tirelessly to bring healthcare back to our area. Thankfully, the City has been able to partner with other local and regional leaders in reshaping our healthcare for the betterment of our residents with the creation of a cutting-edge regional cancer center. The construction of a brand-new, state-of-the-art regional cancer center by Wheeling Hospital and the WU Health System at the shuttered OVMC property is a home run for not only the residents of Wheeling but the entire Ohio Valley,” Ward 4 Councilor Jerry Sklavounakis said.

“Executing the Letter of Intent is the first step in the process of revitalizing Center Wheeling and providing much-needed cancer treatment for our neighbors, friends, and family. This project is a significant endeavor that cannot happen without the effort, vision, and collaboration of various entities. I would like to extend my gratitude to the Ohio County Commission, the city manager and fellow members of Council, and the WV Health System for undertaking this exceptional project.”

Ward 6 Councilor Dave Palmer said, “I am ecstatic with WVU Medicine for their continued investment in the City of Wheeling. While it saddens me to say goodbye to the ‘OV’ as we knew It, this will be the dawn of a new era for Center Wheeling. A facility of this kind will improve our healthcare in this area, so our citizens will not have to travel to other regions to get the care they need. I couldn’t be more grateful to our city staff and county commissioners for their help in making this project a reality.’