Turning Words into Action: Making Equity in Cancer Care Happen

Recently, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center held multiple listening sessions throughout North Baton Rouge (NBR) as a part of its work through the Merck Foundation’s Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care initiative. The $2 million grant will help advance cancer care in some of the most underserved communities.

To better understand the barriers to care in NBR, where the incidence of cancer is higher than in any other area in Louisiana, the Cancer Center is placing a priority on hearing directly from residents. This crucial feedback will help Mary Bird Perkins’, and a board consisting of area leaders, to bridge the gaps in cancer care. Following are some key points.

Nicole HonoréNicole Honoré, director for the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care Project, who facilitated the eight listening sessions, recently discussed her takeaways.

What is the overall goal of the grant and why were the listening sessions an important part of that?

The goal of our Alliance grant, funded by the Merck Foundation, is to address cancer shortcomings in cancer care and advance health programs for the medically underserved in North Baton Rouge.  Over the next five years, we aim to impact 1,700 patients from eight targeted zip codes: 70802, 70805, 70806, 70807, 70811, 70812, 70814 and 70815.  In order to accomplish these goals, we must listen to those we aim to serve and be open to understanding the barriers they face. The listening sessions were designed for us to hear first-hand the opinions and viewpoints of the NBR community regarding barriers to cancer care, healthcare experiences and support service needs. Through the eight sessions, I feel we have gained a better understanding of the barriers and can work to implement effective programs and services to reduce cancer care disparities. Our goal is ongoing communication throughout the process to build trust with the people we are committed to serving.      Listening Sessions  

Of all the feedback received, what do you believe remains the biggest barrier to care for NBR residents?

A common theme across sessions was “lack of access.” This includes medical facilities, transportation, fresh, healthy and affordable foods, financial resources, and more. We learned that overall there is a strong belief among NBR residents that there is no priority to improve health outcomes.

These barriers have been around for decades. How do we finally break them down?

An important first step is acknowledgment.  We all have a role to play in ensuring equity and better health outcomes for all.  For healthcare organizations, the journey begins internally with processes that ensure disparities in care within the organization are identified and eliminated. It also extends to leveraging partnerships with external organizations—in particular, those with complementary roles in improving the health of communities in need. 

What were some of the unexpected takeaways from these listening sessions?

Cancer is a hard topic to discuss, so I wasn’t sure how the sessions would be received by the community. I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback and desire for more opportunities for engagement. Residents also have great interest in learning about cancer, risk factors and preventive measures.

What will the impact of this program have on shaping how we provide cancer services for people in the identified zip codes?

It will enable us to expand access to care for a historically vulnerable community, which is comprised of African-Americans, Hispanics, women, the LGBTQ+ community and others. Not only will these efforts impact our equity work in the North Baton Rouge, but also allow us to use the lessons learned to better serve our patients across the Gulf South.

Listening Sessions

Mary Bird Perkins’ mission is to improve survivorship and lessen the burden of cancer. How will we achieve that through this grant?

We believe every community deserves access to high-quality, affordable and convenient cancer care services, resources and support. If we’re going to accomplish our mission to improve survivorship and lessen the burden of cancer, it’s important that every member of our community is involved.  Our Alliance grant allows us to amplify our impact – to improve the coordination of patient care from diagnosis through survivorship, by strengthening patient engagement in treatment decisions, encouraging doctor- communication and building community partnerships and more.

What’s Next?

A free community event, Engaging the Generations, is coming on June 17, 2023, at Greater King David Baptist Church, 222 Blount Road. Free cancer screenings, interactive sessions on cancer in black families and other resources will be provided, thanks to generous support from GMFS Mortgage, Geaux Ride and Greater King David Baptist Church. The event is being held during National Black Family Awareness Week, an Oncology Center of Excellence Project Community Initiative.