Building Hope: Henry Ford Health System Breaks Ground on Destination Cancer Facility

June 06, 2017
brigitte harris cancer pavilion news square


Detroit June 6, 2017 – Joined by patients and donors, state and city leaders, Henry Ford Health System broke ground today on its new home for the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. The Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion (pronounced BRIG-it-ah) will be a destination center for ambulatory cancer treatment, precision medicine, clinical trials and research, and enhanced support services for cancer patients.

“This is a crucial step in advancing our cancer care program and we’re delighted to break ground,” said Wright Lassiter, III, President and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. “This project extends far beyond brick and mortar. Henry Ford is revolutionizing the whole approach to cancer care and making it accessible to patients, no matter where they live.”

The building is backed by a $20 million gift from Detroit businessman and philanthropist Mort Harris, in honor of his late wife Brigitte. The largest individual gift in Henry Ford’s history, the donation is part of a $40 million package to support the building project and three specific program areas: precision medicine, brain cancer, and pancreatic cancer, which Brigitte battled for almost two years before she passed away in 2016.

“This is my life’s work now – to partner with the people from Henry Ford to find a cure for pancreatic cancer,” said Mort Harris. “I watched my wife suffer for 21 months with this disease and no one else should have to endure that.”

Transformative Cancer Care

The Henry Ford Cancer Institute will expand its unprecedented access to advanced and emerging cancer care technology, primarily through precision medicine. Henry Ford recently partnered with Syapse, the leading precision medicine software company, to give patients expanded treatment options based on their individual DNA profiles.

“Precision medicine is the future of cancer treatment and the path to an eventual cure,” said Steven N. Kalkanis, M.D., Medical Director, Henry Ford Cancer Institute, and, Chair, Department of Neurosurgery. “Being able to crack the molecular genetic code for each patient’s individual cancer will allow us to zero in on the safest and most personalized treatment. When you combine that with access to Henry Ford’s leading clinical trials and research programs, we really are building new hope for cancer patients worldwide.”

All patients will have a nurse navigator, specially trained in their specific cancer type, to manage the entire process. They’ll also have access to integrated lab services with rapid test results, extended weekday and weekend hours, on-site exercise, nutrition, and wellness planning, access to integrative medicine and personal care items, counseling, spiritual and other support services.

The new facility will be connected via skywalk to Henry Ford Hospital, so patients can travel safely back and forth. “We are creating a truly seamless experience that’s unique to each person’s cancer journey,” said Spencer Hoover, vice president and executive director of the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. “And with virtual tumor boards and telemedicine options, we can help more patients than ever before, regardless of where they live.”

“We’ve long envisioned creating a world-class cancer destination with a coordinated, unified environment and we’re so proud to make this vision a reality,” said John Popovich Jr., M.D., President and CEO, Henry Ford Hospital. “This building is the first of many announcements for our campus expansion and we are excited to build on that momentum.”

Driving the Economy

The Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion is part of a 300-acre expansion and neighborhood redevelopment initiative that will include retail, housing, and other mixed uses. Henry Ford Health System collaborated with neighbors, community leaders and business partners throughout the planning process and remains committed to working alongside them to revitalize the landscape of the New Center and Midtown areas through spurring of development that will include, office space, retail and housing.

“There are companies who do business in the city of Detroit and have for a long time and there are companies who are a part of the very fabric of our beloved city who demonstrate their commitment to Detroit every day,” said Mary Sheffield, District 5 City Council Member. “Henry Ford Health System is such a company and with the groundbreaking for a new cancer center, further demonstrates its love for Detroit and its commitment to public health. Cancer is no stranger, but, no friend to Detroit. Henry Ford’s new cancer facility will relieve some of the financial, physical and emotional stress patients and their loved ones would otherwise experience traveling to other parts of the country for the care they need.”

The project is expected to provide approximately 300 construction jobs and more than 70 permanent jobs within the facility itself.

Healing Through Design

The six-story, 187,000-square foot Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion was designed by Detroit-based SmithGroupJJR and embodies the past, present and future of the Henry Ford Hospital campus through contemporary architecture style. It’s rich in detail with brick, metal and limestone exterior, and will be flanked entirely by six-stories of glass on the east and west sides to flood the building with natural light.

A shaded, third-floor garden terrace will provide a comfortable and calming experience to patients, families, and employees. SmithGroupJJR lead project designer, John Hrovat, said the primary goal was to create a space that’s both welcoming and forward thinking.

“What is really important and unique about the building’s design is that despite its size, the layering and depth of detail brings an approachable human-scale quality while giving patients and loved ones hope and confidence in the innovative care they are receiving inside,” Hrovat said.

The campus will have ample parking for patients and families and will also feature special gathering places for patient and caregiver support groups, yoga classes, music and art therapy. Turner Construction, also based in Detroit, is managing the project. It’s expected to cost an estimated $155 million.

Brigitte’s Garden

At today’s groundbreaking event, survivors and families who’ve been touched by cancer were invited to help plant “Brigitte’s Garden.” They scribed loved ones’ names on personalized leaves and artists then installed them on a special canvas blooming with beautifully designed roses, in memory of Brigitte Harris, who loved roses and had a passion for gardening.

“Brigitte’s Garden” will travel to other Henry Ford locations throughout the course of the construction project so other survivors and families can participate. The canvases from each location will eventually be incorporated into the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion as a permanent art installation. Mort Harris and his family also donated an actual rose bush, taken from Brigitte’s prized garden. It will also be incorporated into the landscaping in her memory.

“Although I am certain my mother would not relish this attention, I believe my mother would be especially happy to see this incredible institution creating a positive and hopeful and beautiful environment for the sickest of patients,” said Michele Becker, Brigitte’s daughter. “She would have gladly done this project anonymously for the sole purpose of giving people hope and dignity.”

 “The overwhelming generosity and support from Mort and Brigitte Harris has spanned more than three decades and we are honored to build this facility in Brigitte’s memory,” said Lassiter.



Brenda D. Craig
Director, Media Relations
Henry Ford Health System
[email protected]

Krista Boyer
Communication Lead, Cancer
Henry Ford Health System 
[email protected]