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May 16, 2012 | Tom Ballard

Proton Therapy Center differentiates Dowell Springs Business Park

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The article that follows describes a comprehensive vision for Knoxville’s Dowell Springs Business Park that is being implemented by the Provision Health Alliance. It is the first in a series of stories that will appear in the next month on the parks in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley and their unique roles in accelerating the growth of technology-based enterprises in the region.)

Those driving on Middlebrook Pike in West Knoxville may wonder about the cranes and big hole as they pass the Dowell Springs Business Park to their north. Within two years, they will better understand the significance of the investment that is being made.

Knoxville will be home to one of only 14 proton therapy centers in the U.S., bringing patients seeking more advanced cancer therapy treatment to Knoxville from throughout the South and beyond.

The new facility, officially known as the Provision Center for Proton Therapy (PCPT), is an integral part of a comprehensive complex visualized by Terry Douglass, a long-time Knoxville executive and one of the four founders of CTI Molecular Imaging, Inc. The overall complex is known as the Provision Health Alliance and brings together a strong array of healthcare services.

In a recent interview with, Rick Johnson, the Alliance’s Executive Vice President, explained the vision, reviewed the evolution and outlined the future for a world-class diagnostic and treatment complex in East Tennessee.

“The most differentiating part of the complex is the Proton Therapy Center,” Johnson said in explaining that Provision Health Alliance’s goal is to “create a comprehensive and open complex. It is a place where people are coming at a very critical time in their lives (for) personalized, predictive, comprehensive care.”

The $120 million PCPT is the “linchpin” for the complex, Johnson said. It will be one of only a few proton therapy centers located on a non-medical center campus in the country. For Provision, this is only logical.  “We are inclusive and a resource for any credentialed physician,” Johnson said.

An April 20 “foundation ceremony” to commemorate the PCPT construction was the latest step in a well-planned and executed strategy that traces its roots to the founding of CTI by Douglass and three others in the mid-1980s. Over the years, CTI instruments set the global standard in cancer diagnosis and research, cardiological ailments, and neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Johnson explained that the concept for and initial development of the Provision Health Alliance began to take place shortly after CTI, which became a public company in 2003, was acquired by Siemens Medical Solutions in 2005.

“The first operating entity in the Alliance was the East Tennessee Diagnostic Center, founded six years ago,” he said. Now expanded and renamed the Provision Imaging Center, “It offers a full suite of diagnostic imaging services” – PET, CT, Open MRI, and X-ray, to name many.

Next up were two medical office buildings that collectively provide nearly 160,000 square feet of space. Johnson said current occupants include the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center, Tennessee Cancer Specialists, East Tennessee Radiation Therapy, the Provision Imaging Center, a cyclotron producing radiopharmaceuticals, and the Provision Health and Wellness Center.

Johnson added that the latter is important to the overall goal of supporting those utilizing the complex for treatment and recovery. The Health and Wellness Center provides services for nutrition and special dietary needs, exercise and fitness training, individual coaching and counseling, and physical therapy.

A facility such as the PCPT needs a Certificate of Need (CON) approval from state officials. Johnson said that it was approved about 18 months ago “with a unanimous vote.”

One component in the initial strategy took longer than expected to be added to the service mix. The initial attempt to secure a CON for a conventional radiation therapy center was denied about two and one-half years ago. Persistence paid-off, however, and it was approved last December. The conventional center will open this August.

Just because the signature PCPT is underway, Provision is not ready to say its work is done.

“We want to have and will have more physician practices on campus, focused on the unique needs of men and women,” Johnson said. Possibilities include practices in urology, non-invasive cardiology, and obstetrics and gynecology.

Other plans call for  housing accommodations for PCPT patients from outside the area who will spend six to eight weeks in Knoxville, a recreation facility, food services, and a training and development center for proton therapy practioners here and across the United States.

Johnson explained that the initial question that the Provision partners asked was, “What elements need to be brought together to make this (vision) happen?” Their answer was that “it starts with physicians,” but adds patient-focused, individualized care and world-class capabilities.

“Our vision is strategic and long-term,” Johnson said.

There is clearly more to come, but he suggests we leave that story for another day.

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