Last week the Community Foundation unveiled a report outlining the need for comprehensive services, both medical and psychological, for breast cancer survivors in central Alabama.
The findings concluded there is a need for “psychological counseling, support groups and mental and emotional support for survivors, their families.”
In 2012, there were an estimated 2.97 million cancer survivors in the United States. As improvements are made in cancer treatment and early detection that number is expect to increase by 30 percent over the next decade, according to the study.
In an unprecedented move, the Community Foundation was able to get representatives with UAB Medicine, Brookwood Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Health Center, Princeton Baptist Medical Center and Grandview Medical Center to come together and work toward a solution to better treat breast cancer survivors.
“We wanted to focus on post-treatment survivorship, not just for the survivor, but for the families as well,” said Christopher Nanni, president and CEO of the Community Foundation. “We realized we could have a bigger impact if we brought everyone together and focused our energies in one area.”
Founded in 1959, the Community Foundation started the Women’s Breast Health Fund in 2009 to help finance small projects that could have major impacts, Nanni explained. The breast cancer survivorship project is the latest and perhaps the most impactful to date, he said.
“We invited the senior leadership from all the major hospitals to sit down at the table and work collaboratively on a shared service model,” Nanni said.
Nanni said it is still too early to tell exactly what that model looks like. “We know where we want to go now and what services we need to provide and which ones aren’t [currently provided]. That is a big step,” he said.
As someone who was unfamiliar with the competition between local medical facilities, Nanni said he was unaware how difficult it would be to get all of the hospitals to work together on this project.
“I just kind of came in and said, ‘Yeah, let’s just get them to sit down and talk about this.’ And people kept telling me I couldn’t do that because they are competitors. Really I think that is the biggest and hardest step,” Nanni said.
For Nanni, the goal is to have a fully integrated, accessible, holistic set of services for breast cancer survivors that is supported by every local medical institution. With the study published to outline areas where improvement can be made, the Community Foundation hopes to have limited services available to survivors as early as January 2016.
In terms of access to care, the study shows that what survivors need the most is public transportation. The report shows that treatment facilities are too far away, especially for those in Blount County, which currently has no programs in place for breast cancer survivors.
As the coalition of hospitals continues to work toward a solution, Nanni hopes that a centralized repository of breast cancer services can be formed. “The most important thing for survivors is peer support,” Nanni said. “That’s what we are hoping to provide.”