Three institutions dedicated to health, innovative science and quality cancer care last week announced the creation of the Southeast Michigan Partners Against Cancer (SEMPAC) to help close the gap on racial disparities related to cancer care in southeast Michigan.
SEMPAC is made possible by a more than $4 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute. It’s one of 23 NCI-supported projects in the nation, one of six dedicated to addressing cancer health disparities among African Americans, and the only one focused on older, underserved African Americans from urban areas.
The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, the Josephine Ford Cancer Center at Henry Ford Health System, and Wayne State University School of Medicine have committed to work together to improve access to cancer screenings and treatment for older, underserved African Americans throughout the tri-county area.
Co-principal investigators for SEMPAC are Terrance Albrecht, associate center director and professor of population sciences, at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University SOM; and Robert Chapman, M.D., director of the Josephine Ford Cancer Center at Henry Ford Health System.
The tri-county urban areas, including residents of Detroit, Inkster, Southfield and Pontiac, account for more than 71 percent of Michigan’s African-American population and 42 percent of the state’s population living below the poverty level, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2008 estimates. According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program of the National Cancer Institute, older African Americans in southeast Michigan have disproportionately higher rates of cancer and have significantly higher mortality rates compared to caucasians in this region, as well as African Americans nationally.
“We’re fortunate to have so many excellent health care facilities in our region, yet there are many in our community who are not aware of the services available to them, may not understand how to access services, and therefore don’t have the greatest chance of survival. That is just not acceptable,” said Gerold Bepler, M.D., president and CEO, Karmanos Cancer Institute. “As cancer physicians and researchers our focus is to find the best treatment options and cures to save lives. We believe everyone deserves that right. This partnership will magnify our outreach and help save the lives of some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
Both Dr. Albrecht and Dr. Chapman have worked extensively to help close the gap on racial disparities in the metropolitan Detroit area. Since May 2005, Dr. Albrecht and her team at Karmanos have engaged several community partners to participate in the Detroit Community Network Program, receiving a $2 million grant over a five-year period from the NCI, one of 25 such programs nationally. The Detroit CNP served as a community-based participatory education, training and research collaboration to address the disparities of older African Americans in the city of Detroit.
Dr. Chapman from the Josephine Ford Cancer Center realized that even with great programming, older African Americans still tended to be diagnosed with late stage cancer. As he put it, “We had a real problem right under our noses and needed to do something about it.”
In 2006, Dr. Chapman’s program was selected as one of six sites nationally for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Demonstration Project for community-based patient navigation to enroll Medicaid-eligible African-American seniors in cancer screening. The program resulted in thousands of older African Americans being screened and they were empowered to see their primary care physician for additional care.
Dr. Albrecht and Dr. Chapman have collaborated informally since 2006, recognizing that their work complements each others rather than competes. With the help of Karmanos’ CNP-partner organizations and the JFCC CMS screening program, nearly 5,900 African-American seniors were enrolled in cancer screenings, more than any other CMS Demonstration Project nationally. Together, these programs impacted nearly 7,000 African-American seniors, providing cancer education, screening, and research efforts.
These efforts now serve as the foundation for the Southeast Michigan Partners Against Cancer, an expansion to serve underserved, older African Americans throughout the tri-county area of southeast Michigan.
“The Southeast Michigan Partners Against Cancer is a powerful community collaboration that will move the needle forward in reducing racial disparities and cancer deaths among underserved African Americans in our area,” said Nancy Schlichting, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System. “This partnership is best poised to not only improve cancer screening and early diagnosis for African Americans, but ensure that patients get the best and most advanced cancer care available.”
The SEMPAC will collaborate with several community agencies to help carry out practical intervention elements to achieve results.
SEMPAC’s goal to reduce cancer disparities of older, underserved African Americans within southeast Michigan, improving early detection, diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, will be achieved by:
* Enhancing communication skills, behavioral attitudes and information exchange with the help of a patient advocate so that older, underserved African Americans have the best chance of high quality intervention for early diagnosis and treatment, especially related to breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers;
* Enhancing the cultural understanding for those who provide treatment to assure that communication is understood between the patient and the health provider;
* Building on the growing trust of patients and the community to enhance the collection of biospecimens for research and clinical studies; and
* Recruiting and training future researchers and physicians to better work with and for the community to reduce cancer disparities.
Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., dean of the Wayne State University School of Medicine, said, “This project not only reaches out to one of our city’s underserved populations, it will also provide valuable information for our next generation of physicians, which will allow them to better understand the causes of racial disparities and to eventually eliminate them.”
SEMPAC and the ongoing commitment of its partners will work to create tri-county regional partnerships that will build awareness and educate residents of cancer treatment options, provide tools to make better health care decisions related to cancer care, and increase understanding of the importance of biospecimens to advance cancer research.
Dr. Chapman added, “Detroit and southeast Michigan’s ability to create partnerships, even with scarce resources, on behalf of its citizens will be the envy of the nation.”
“No one institution alone can restore the health of our community and region,” said Dr. Albrecht. “We need everyone’s support: health institutions, community leaders, businesses and government, community and religious groups. We can and will make an impact on cancer disparities. We invite everyone to help us in this unprecedented effort to save lives.”
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