Tag Archives: cancer

Senator’s Concerns Helped Sink UT’s Plan for $98M Investment

The University of Tennessee may have abandoned tens of millions of dollars over the next decade from a proposed partnership that it is no longer pursuing with a proton therapy center in West Knoxville because of legislative and financial challenges associated with it, reports the News Sentinel.
The proposal, which was strongly backed by key university officials, called for using the additional revenues generated to fund new academic and research programs and facilities that were considered a step toward becoming a top 25 public research institution, according to documents obtained by the News Sentinel through a public records request.
The university dropped its legislative efforts in March, a month after a bill was filed by Sens. Randy McNally and Doug Overbey, ending a two-year effort to affiliate itself with Provision Center for Proton Therapy, much like how the University of Florida has partnered with a proton therapy center in Jacksonville, Fla. (Note: The legislature’s website shows Overbey as prime sponsor of the bill, SB1194, with Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, as House sponsor. It has not been withdrawn, the website shows, but was never moved in the Senate and taken off notice in the House.)
… While the university was projected to receive a minimum total financial benefit of $80 million in 2023 that could reach more than $180 million, questions were raised about the financial risk to the university, and ultimately to the state of Tennessee, as well as uncertainty about lower reimbursement rates and effectiveness of the treatment.
Among those with concerns were McNally — chairman of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee — and local health care officials.
“Even if it benefited the university, there were philosophical differences,” UT President Joe DiPietro said in an interview, noting that various people were sympathetic to McNally’s concern about using taxpayer dollars to benefit a private enterprise.
McNally worried the public-private partnership would put the university and state at too great of a risk and potentially compete with local health care providers. It also would set a precedent for other schools, while allowing the center to cherry pick the best patients with private insurance.
“I might be pessimistic when it comes to those projects, but the state would have taken a lot of risk through the university. We found that out with Hemlock. It has not performed like it had promised,” McNally said in an interview, referring to Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville that received some $130 million in state and local incentives and announced last month plans to lay off 300 of its 400 workers and shut down its facility.
“I can’t say that I’m right on this, but I felt it was a risk to the state that it didn’t need to be taking,” he added. “I couldn’t tell you with everything the return would justify the risk. It was something new the state hadn’t gotten into and would open itself up for others.”
Proton therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses a beam of protons to more precisely irradiate tumors without harming surrounding tissue and reducing treatment-related side effects. Local businessman Terry Douglass has spearheaded the development of the proton therapy center currently under construction in Dowell Springs as part of a comprehensive clinical outpatient health care center.
… DiPietro said in the interview that McNally wasn’t the only person to express concern over the proposal, though he declined to say who the others were.
Douglass conveyed his frustration over the lack of progress to university officials in December, questioning why McNally’s “nonissues” took precedence over the benefits of the legislation.
“Why is it that one or two individuals can defeat something that is potentially so good for UT, our community and our state?” Douglass wrote in an email to DiPietro, Executive Vice President David Millhorn, lobbyist Anthony Haynes and Chancellor Jimmy Cheek. “I have been around long enough to know that when one door closes a better one opens. I just hate to see this door close for UT.”
… McNally brushed off any notion that he was the reason behind the university’s decision.
“It did concern me, but I’m one of 33 senators. I wouldn’t think that it was anything that I had to do with. I think it was a decision made by the university,” said McNally, who last year sponsored the original bill, which didn’t move forward.
McNally said he didn’t discuss the latest bill with its sponsors or any of his legislative peers, though he did talk with local health care officials, who questioned the university’s role in a business that also provided traditional radiation therapy services.
Covenant Health has been in a dispute with Provision over its radiation therapy center, which received a Certificate of Need in December 2011. Covenant declined to comment for this story, citing its ongoing appeal.
McNally works for Cardinal Health, which runs the pharmacy program at Methodist Medical Center, a Covenant Health hospital. McNally’s wife, Jan, retired as a Covenant executive in December.

Rep. Lois DeBerry Undergoing Cancer Treatment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — State Rep. Lois DeBerry is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of pancreatic cancer.
The Memphis Democrat was first elected in 1972 and is the longest-serving current member of the House of Representatives and second-longest in the entire Legislature. The 67-year-old is also the first female speaker pro tempore in the House.
DeBerry was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 after suffering from stomach pain.
The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/10Kli31 ) reports that earlier this week House Speaker Beth Harwell appointed Democratic Rep. Karen Camper of Memphis to temporarily replace DeBerry on the House Finance Committee and its finance subcommittee.
DeBerry was excused from floor sessions on Monday and three days last week

News Notes on TN Legislative Ideas as the 2013 Session Gets Underway

Local Option Gas Tax?
Tri-Cities officials are asking area state legislators to authorize a local option gas tax of up to five cents per gallon as a means to improve roads, reports the Bristol Herald Courier.
Friday’s annual wish list presentation from Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City leaders to representatives and senators headed to Nashville… includes a variety of policy objectives, but the gas tax was an eye-opener to one Bristol lawmaker.
“I just can’t see that working in today’s current economic environment,” said State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, one of the lawmakers at the meeting at the Millennium Centre.
“We are a pay as you go state when it comes to roads and bridges and so far, that has worked, so I can’t see a tax increase going anywhere fast.”
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips handled the transportation segment of the presentations given to legislators and said the consensus of the three-city committee was to have a gas tax option ready to use for an ever-growing list of road construction needs.
“If we are not going to raise taxes or sell bonds somewhere down the road (to improve roads), we are going to have a big problem,” Phillips said. “I think this is really the year to look seriously at that local option so that we can get some help. I personally feel that if there was (no press coverage) and you raised taxes five cents on gasoline no one would know it. Three weeks ago, gas went up 13 cents in one day. The way prices are fluctuating, I think we are missing a prime opportunity not to address that option.”

Insurance Coverage for Oral Chemotherapy?
Tennessee’s cancer-fighting advocates want to hang onto funding for screening and smoking cessation, do a better job educating residents and – after a crushing defeat on this last year – force insurers to cover oral chemotherapy at the same rate as intravenous treatments, reports The Tennessean.
What’s not on their list is raising the cigarette tax, the nation’s sixth-lowest, an effort shown to discourage smoking, raise revenue and, ultimately, save on healthcare costs. That effort failed last year too, said Nancy Hauskins DuBois, an advocacy specialist for the American Cancer Society, so her group is putting it on snooze and waiting for a better time.
…Tennessee is making slight gains against the nation in its cancer fight, moving from fifth in the nation for deaths three years ago to sixth today, U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention statistics show.
At the same time, it moved from 22nd to 16th for diagnosed incidents of cancer, but that’s not a bad thing, said Dr. Ingrid M. Meszoely, a Vanderbilt University surgeon and co-chair of the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.

Elect Utility District Boards?
Most utility district boards in Tennessee are appointed by county mayors or other local officials, but a dispute over the DeKalb Utility District’s expansion plans has triggered a call for having the boards elected by ratepayers, reports The Tennessean.
But efforts allowing ratepayers to elect utility board members elsewhere in Tennessee have failed in the General Assembly, in part because of opposition from a powerful association representing rural utilities, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD).
Some lawmakers hope to try again this year.
“The customers of the utility districts have no say in who is on their board,” said state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald. “The board controls the rates, controls a lot of issues.”
As a House member for the past decade, Hensley has sponsored legislation allowing direct elections of utility commissioners in Lawrence County. Those efforts have failed. But Hensley, elected to the Senate in November, said he’ll try again this year.
The issue of direct elections for Tennessee’s 180 utility districts, many in rural areas, would add accountability to the boards and better protect ratepayers, say advocates for the change.

Bill Limits Spur Knox Discussion
The Knox County legislative delegation is weighing the impact of state Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, with one new House member reporting he’s already being contacted by lobbyists on the matter, reports Georgiana Vines.
Roger Kane, the Republican elected in November to the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, said four lobbyists have contacted him about sponsoring legislation and one wants him to sponsor two bills.
If Harwell’s 10-bill limit proposal were to be adopted, “that would be half my slots,” he said. “In principle, it sounds good,” he said. “It has caused some things to change. Typically, freshmen were given some ramp-up time. (Now) the freshmen have become of a little more value.”
However, he said he doesn’t want constituencies to be without an opportunity to have bills introduced late in the session, so he hasn’t yet “developed an opinion” on Harwell’s proposal.
Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican who represents the 16th District, said he has favored limiting bills for several years. He said he has discussed with Harwell having a limit of seven “active” bills at any one time, and if one passes or fails, then another could be introduced.
“What the speaker is doing is a step in the right direction,” he said.
State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Republican representing the 19th District, and Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Democrat representing the 15th District, said some legislators may already have commitments that end up surpassing 10 bills.
“Put the rule in, but make it effective for a second session and here on out,” Armstrong said.

Rep. Todd Provides Details on Cancer

State Rep. Curry Todd told a legislative committee today he has a rare, slow-growing form of cancer and later told reporters that that it doesn’t affect his legislative work and he’s running for re-election this year, according to Richard Locker.
Todd, 64, said in a press conference the cancer is macroglobulinemia, described by the National Cancer Institute as Waldenström macroglobulinemia, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Todd said he was diagnosed 4½ years ago, from blood tests conducted for asthma.
“I go back in every six months and have blood workup done. There’s four stages to the disease; I’m in the first stage,” he said. “It does have some affects on me: my vitamin B-12 and other things it depletes and makes me tired some. But I’ve got grandkids, (ages) 2, 4 and 6, and I plan on dancing at their weddings.
“I will continue to do my job as a state representative. It has not affected my ability to do my job at all. My oncologist has told me that. He said once it does progress, then we’ll look at treatment but right now you’re fine… I plan on getting re-elected and being back up here and continuing to pass good legislation. I want my constituent base to know I’m fine; I’m looking after their best interests and I will continue doing so as long as I’m here.”
He said he confided earlier in his close friends but decided to go public with the disease during debate in the House Commerce Committee on a bill that would require health insurance companies to provide the same level of benefits for oral anti-cancer drugs as they do for injected chemotherapy. Todd spoke just before the committee voted on House Bill 1087 when it appeared a majority would vote to kill the bill. Instead, the committee tied 13-13, which means the bill didn’t advance but will be discussed again next week.

Cancer-stricken State Employee Charges Illegal Firing

A longtime state employee who has been diagnosed with cancer has filed suit charging that top officials in Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration illegally terminated him in violation of some of the same civil service laws and rules the governor is seeking to abolish, according to the Tennessean.
William B. Wood, 54, of Nashville has charged that he was terminated without cause or notice just six months before he would have become eligible for retirement health insurance. His suit, filed in Davidson County Chancery Court, states that Wood currently is unable to get coverage or treatment for his cancer.
The suit charges that Wood’s job, as an attorney and workers’ compensation specialist, was improperly classified as “executive service” and that he was improperly denied the right to challenge his dismissal. The suit comes as Haslam is seeking legislative approval for sweeping changes in the state’s civil service statutes, contending the 70-year-old system provides too much protection for hundreds of poorly performing public employees.

Lois DeBerry: Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– State Rep. Lois DeBerry has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season — mainly being alive.
After nearly three years of battling pancreatic cancer, the Memphis Democrat was told by her doctors last month that they couldn’t find any trace of the terminal disease.
“It’s the best Christmas present I could get,” she told The Associated Press.
DeBerry, a lawmaker for nearly 40 years, has been a powerful influence on Capitol Hill. As the first female speaker pro tempore in the House, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have sought her support to pass key legislation.
She’s worked tirelessly to pass bills of her own that seek to benefit the poor, children and senior citizens. Some days she’s so busy she doesn’t even have time to eat.
It took cancer to slow her down, for a while at least.
DeBerry discovered she had early stages of the disease in 2009. A fellow lawmaker noticed her eyes were yellow, or jaundiced, and suggested she see a doctor.
After being diagnosed, DeBerry underwent several weeks of chemotherapy before having surgery. She followed that up with several months of more chemo treatments and the cancer seemed to have gone into remission. But there was a setback.
“I was told if this cancer comes back, it comes back within your first two years,” DeBerry said. “I was one month from two years when it came back.”
At that point DeBerry said she felt like giving up. Instead, she said she relied on her faith and the overwhelming support of family, friends and political colleagues who strengthened her “will to fight to live.”
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam was one of those who prayed with DeBerry.
“I think sometimes the way that things happen in life, maybe the best way you can judge people is when things aren’t going well,” Haslam said. “And Lois … never let it drag her down.”
During a second major surgery, doctors removed DeBerry’s pancreas, which produces several important hormones, such as insulin. The removal left her with Type 1 diabetes and a daily practice of giving herself insulin shots, but she said she’s just thankful to be alive.
“This is the most challenging thing that I’ve undertaken and it is the one thing that really put life into perspective for me,” said DeBerry, who earlier this year joined former House
Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington in being given the honorary title of speaker emeritus.
DeBerry said her 55-year-old cousin also battled the aggressive cancer, but wasn’t as fortunate.
“She was diagnosed on Monday, in hospice on Friday, dead on Monday,” she recalled.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there were about 44,000 new cases of pancreatic cancer in the U.S. in 2011 and more than 37,000 deaths. Among those killed by the disease was Apple founder Steve Jobs and Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Adolpho A. Birch, who DeBerry said encouraged her before he died even though he was ailing.
Despite the numbers, medical experts say advances in technology are helping doctors treat pancreatic cancer more effectively, and in some cases cure patients. DeBerry credited the research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for her remission.
“In the last 10 to 20 years, there has been significant advancement in the treatment of pancreatic cancer, in addition to many other cancers,” said Kelly Wright, whose expertise is liver and pancreas surgery at Vanderbilt.
“Part of that advancement is better understanding of when we utilize surgery and when we utilize other treatment strategies to help the patients stay stable and to keep their symptoms under control, which allows them to live longer.”
Wright added that the curative rate for people with pancreatic cancer is now 1 in 4, compared to once being 1 in 8.
State Rep. John Deberry said the advancement in research is important, but he said people also have to want to survive, and his Memphis colleague maintained that desire.
“I think you’re going to have several things working together,” he said. “You’ve got what the doctors can do with medical science … but also, the will within that individual to not see cancer as an automatic death sentence. That person has to get up and have the will to live.”
DeBerry’s colleagues noted that she didn’t let her chemo and radiation treatments slow her down. She missed only a few days of the legislative sessions, and would often drive more than three hours to Memphis after having treatments on a Thursday and return to Nashville on time the following Monday for session.
“I don’t know that there’s anybody that I admire more than Lois DeBerry,” said Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville. “We’re proud of the message that she sends to a lot of other people that suffer from cancer, that you can lick this.”
DeBerry said she feels like she’s been given a new lease on life and she’s not taking it for granted.
She encourages people who might have symptoms of pancreatic cancer — such as jaundice of the eyes or stomach cramps — to not hesitate seeing a doctor. And she’s joined an effort to pass legislation in Congress that seeks to invest more money in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
“God has given me a chance to make a difference in somebody’s life,” she said. “And I intend to do that.”