Empowering Communities: Bridging the Gap in Cancer Care in North Baton Rouge

“We have a bold ambition to redefine cancer care, but we cannot do it alone.”

In the heart of North Baton Rouge, where lives are too often defined by race, income, and zip code, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center (MBPCC) is driven by a commitment to creating access for everyone and creating resources for the underserved.

Through the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care (AECC), generously funded by the Merck Foundation, the Cancer Center has launched a $2 million-dollar initiative, “Ensuring Cancer Care Equity for North Baton Rouge.” The goal? To drive progress toward equity in cancer care for all and alleviate the burdens of cancer. With more than 2,000 annual cancer diagnoses and 750 deaths, North Baton Rouge particularly has high incidence rates as reported by the Louisiana Tumor Registry and Louisiana Department of Health (2022). This area, with a population predominantly of African American/Black descent (77%), faces significant challenges due to a lack of access to quality healthcare. 

Nicole Honoré (center) speaks to residents during one of eight listening sessions held across north Baton Rouge in conjunction with The Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care, an initiative funded by Merck Foundation.

Over the past year, MBPCC has made significant strides in addressing barriers to cancer care, including appointing a dedicated director for equity in cancer care to oversee the Alliance initiative and establish meaningful partnerships with diverse community organizations to better understand the barriers to care and ensure MBPCC provides culturally competent and patient-centered cancer care.

A first step taken was establishing the AECC Community Advisory Board (CAB), launched in February 2023 with local champions and influencers from organizations such as Geaux Ride, 100 Black Men, Metro Health, 100 Black Women, Southern University’s Ag Center, School of Nursing and Vulnerable Communities and Peoples Initiatives, The La Capitale (LA) Chapter of The Links, Inc., Metro Council 2-Jewel J. Newman Community Center, Open Health Care Clinic, Cancer Services, Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation and Healthy Blue. Most recently, a representative from Woman’s Hospital joined the CAB.  “Our goal is to expand our coalition of community partners and CAB membership.  Together, we will advance health equity in North Baton Rouge,” states Nicole Honoré, Director for Equity in Cancer Care at MBPCC.  These representatives serve as an essential link between the community and MBPCC to leverage collective expertise, resources, and wisdom to advance equity in cancer care.

Chauna Banks, District 2 Metro Council woman and CAB member believes, “As a community leader and healthcare advocate for the northern part of East Baton Rouge, I felt compelled to join the advisory board. I aim to help ensure available resources are directed toward helping the North Baton Rouge community to overcome obstacles in accessing cancer care and expanding the availability of vital services and treatments.”  With her support, Mary Bird Perkins gained insight into the barriers to cancer care faced by residents by hosting eight community listening sessions throughout the North Baton Rouge area, one of which was held at the Jewel J. Newman Community Center in early 2023.

CAB member Ebony Starks, Vice President of Plant-Based Initiatives at the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation, an organization supporting philanthropic initiatives in the Greater Baton Rouge area, states, “When I think about health equity work in North Baton Rouge, I envision a place where race, income, and zip code no longer determine one’s life expectancy. I am elated to support this crucial endeavor with MBPCC, to address health disparities and to empower communities with the knowledge they need to thrive.”

100 Black Men member Tyrone Dunn, a cancer survivor and CAB member, emphasized the importance of navigating the aftermath of cancer care in the North Baton Rouge area where people often do not receive necessary services. During the first year of this Alliance initiative, MBPCC enrolled 285 North Baton Rouge residents in its Patient Navigation Program, which offers personalized assistance, education, and compassionate care throughout the challenging journey of cancer treatment to patients, families and caregivers.

Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s vision goes beyond providing care; it’s about nurturing hope and crafting a tangible difference in the lives of those who need it most. Together, with the unwavering support of a dedicated Community Advisory Board and coalition of community partners, we are rewriting the narrative of health equity in North Baton Rouge, one milestone at a time.