An $85 million proton radiation cancer treatment center will be built in Baton Rouge by Provident ProtonCare, a division of Provident Resources Group in Baton Rouge.

The Louisiana ProtonCare Center, projected to open near the end of 2019, will be located near the junction of Interstates 10 and 12, and will be the latest addition to the Baton Rouge Health District. The center's proton therapy will use a targeted, high-energy dose of radiation to destroy tumor cells. Proton therapy is used in situations where treatment options are limited for eye and brain, head and neck, prostate, liver, lung, breast and pediatric cancers, as well as on tumors that are close to vital organs or tissue that could be damaged by traditional radiation treatments.

Clinical partners in the center's operation are Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Baton Rouge General and Woman’s Hospital. They will serve as a regional network giving patient's access to the center in cases in which proton therapy treatment is an option.

The project was announced Wednesday by Provident Resources Group Chairman and CEO Steve Hicks and Gov. John Bel Edwards.

The center is the second one in the area to be announced within the past three weeks. Construction on the $100 million Louisiana Proton Therapy Center is slated to begin this year at the University Medical Center campus in New Orleans by Tennessee-based Provision Healthcare. Construction is expected to begin by late this year and last about two years.

The two proposed south Louisiana centers will join two dozen such facilities in operation in the U.S., the next closest ones being in Shreveport and Houston. Another dozen are either under construction or in development, according to the National Association for Proton Therapy's website. 

The Baton Rouge center will create 95 jobs, with with an average salary of $105,000, plus benefits. Louisiana Economic Development estimates the project will result in another 101 indirect jobs.

Provident ProtonCare will receive an incentive package from the state that includes a $1 million performance-based grant, payable in five annual installments beginning in 2021. Provident also can access the state's workforce training program and is expected to use Louisiana’s Quality Jobs Program, which provides a cash rebate of up to 6 percent of a company's annual payroll for as long as a decade.

The New Orleans center is receiving the same package and is expected to pursue federal New Markets Tax Credits in its financing. It is expected to create 60 new jobs, paying an average salary of $100,000, plus benefits. 

Other organizations involved in landing the capital city's center are the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Provident will finance, own and operate the nonprofit therapy center through a special purpose entity, Hicks said. After 20 years, Provident will donate the facility to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation as a permanent asset in the Baton Rouge Health District.

Hicks said Provident will issue tax-exempt and taxable bonds to finance the center. The medical centers will form a joint venture to handle clinical operations and patient treatment.

Hicks said donation of the center to BRAF after the facility is paid off is a way of supporting the community Provident is based in. “We’re not doing this in any other market, but Baton Rouge is our home town,” he said.

“We’re excited to add this new cancer-treatment technology that will allow our citizens to receive care in the Baton Rouge Health District rather than going out of state,” said Executive Vice President John Spain of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Provident ProtonCare is venturing into proton therapy centers, with a facility under construction in Atlanta, where Provident is entering into a clinical agreement with Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute.

Baton Rouge placed high on Provident’s priority list for new investments, in part because of the collaboration of health care and economic development partners in Louisiana, Hicks said.

Provident has assembled a national team for the development of its proton therapy centers, with expertise in the construction, design and financing of facilities. The project team includes Gilbane Development Co., Stantec Architects and Citigroup Global Markets. Provident’s long-term partner Ion Beam Applications SA will provide proton therapy technology, the Proteus Plus system, for the ProtonCare Center.

Construction of the center will begin in 2018. Hiring for the 95 positions will begin in 2019, with full employment expected by 2021. Final negotiations for the center’s property location in the Baton Rouge Health District are underway and nearing a conclusion.

“Louisiana’s most valuable asset is her people, and their health is of great importance to us. With that in mind, it is crucial that the best treatments are available to them,” Edwards said.

“This center will not only provide optimum care and hope for patients, but it will be a great asset to the economic development of the capital city,” said Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome.

Roughly 1.7 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. last year, and the majority of patients were treated with radiation therapy. Interest in proton therapy has risen since the Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2001, but some medical experts have questioned its results for treating some cancers.

Unlike X-rays, which can transfer energy to healthy tissues between a tumor and the body's surface, proton beams can hit a target while sparing healthy tissues from the treatment's side effects, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Founded in 1999, Provident Resources Group is a national nonprofit involved in the creation, ownership and operation of education, health care, senior living and multifamily housing facilities and services.