Pioneering Progress: Mary Bird Perkins at the Merck Alliance Annual Meeting

Equity in cancer care is crucial. In order to support Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center’s ongoing commitment to cancer care in underserved communities, Cancer Center representatives joined healthcare administrators and clinicians from across the nation at the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care Annual Meeting in Richmond, Va.

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The April event provided a perfect forum to network with other Merck grantees and exchange resources related to policy and data collection. Perhaps most importantly of all, it allowed cancer center staff from around the country to discuss and build on Mary Bird Perkins’ Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care (AECC) project, a Merck Foundation funded, multi-site initiative.  

The goal of the project is to advance health equity by improving timely access to a range of patient-centered, culturally responsive programs for individuals residing in the North Baton Rouge community, who are often uninsured or underinsured. The presence of representatives from the Merck Foundation and the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care’s National Program Office underscored the conference’s shared mission to revolutionize cancer care throughout the United States.

Mary Bird Perkins staff also presented at the event, with the Cancer Center’s presentation largely focusing on its Patient Navigation Program. A step-by-step process, the program supports patients from intake to survivorship through a comprehensive care approach that includes:

  • Access to patient navigators, who connect individuals and their families with education

  • Collaboration with a multidisciplinary care team and appointment scheduling

  • Resources and other forms of support

  • Survivorship care plans and follow up assessments

Sharing valuable insights developed by Mary Bird Perkins staff helped provide valuable takeaways to other grantees, while also highlighting how the national program is enhancing cancer care for the underserved.

One special highlight of the meeting was a keynote address by Dr. Arif Kamal, chief patient officer, American Cancer Society. His lecture, which touched on current trends and future directions in oncology, stressed the need for human connection and collaboration to improve cancer care. “Sometimes people don’t want to get treated after diagnosis,” he said. “We need to understand their underlying motivations.” It’s a message that aligns perfectly with Mary Bird Perkins’ approach where each person is treated as an individual, not just a patient.

For Nicole Honoré, Mary Bird Perkins’ AECC program manager, the trip to Virginia provided an opportunity to discuss future goals and strategies for providing equitable cancer care. Among the highlighted programs was the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care Community Advisory Board, which consists of influential, local healthcare leaders, local elected officials and community groups throughout the North Baton Rouge area.

 “Our aim is to ensure our programs continue to benefit patients living in underserved communities, such as North Baton Rouge, by providing high-quality and culturally responsive care beyond the grant period,” Honoré said.

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Also among the Mary Bird Perkins team were Nancy Gosserand, director of Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge, and a key member of Mary Bird Perkins’ AECC Community Advisory Board, and Director of Cancer Navigation and Support Services at Mary Bird Perkins Angela Hammett. Gosserand called the conference “inspiring,” while Hammett stressed the variety of its benefits.

“By connecting with other grantees, we create a powerful web of knowledge, resources, and support that amplifies our individual and communal impact. In every conversation, we plant seeds for collaboration and innovation, ensuring that our work continues to grow and thrive beyond the confines of this event.”

As the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care project prepares for its third year at Mary Bird Perkins, the connections and knowledge gained from the Alliance Annual Meeting will go a long way toward helping its continued success.

Attending the event reinforced Mary Bird Perkins’ unwavering commitment to collaboration, sustainability and community-centered care. It was more than just a gathering; it was a catalyst for future innovations and a reaffirmation of Mary Bird Perkins’ mission to provide equitable cancer care for everyone who walks through its doors.