Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Receives $2 Million Grant from Merck Foundation to Advance Equitable Care in North Baton Rouge

Cancer Center anticipates providing more than 1,700 underserved residents with key support services

BATON ROUGE, La. – Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, Louisiana’s largest cancer care organization, announced today that it has received a $2 million grant supported through the Alliance for Equity in Cancer Care (the Alliance). This is an initiative funded by the Merck Foundation (the Foundation) and designed to make cancer care more equitable in the United States by helping patients living in underserved communities receive timely access to high-quality, culturally responsive care. For this grant, Mary Bird Perkins will focus on the North Baton Rouge area.

In North Baton Rouge, the incidence of cancer is higher than in any other area in Louisiana. This fact is attributed to the area’s high poverty rate. Those living in poverty have higher cancer incidence rates, poorer five-year survival rates, higher mortality rates, and are more likely to be diagnosed with a later staged disease due to Social Determinants of Health (SDoH) challenges.

“As the state’s largest community cancer center, Mary Bird Perkins is committed to providing outstanding cancer care to diverse communities across our state,” said Angela Hammett, MSN, director of patient navigation and support services, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. “With the aid of this $2 million grant, we will have the resources to further focus our equity work in the North Baton Rouge community and then use lessons learned to better serve our patients across the Gulf South. Our program will enhance cancer health equity by providing our patients with evidence-based multidisciplinary coordination of care, advanced patient engagement and provider communication, and by addressing psychosocial and financial needs.”

Nearly 40% of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. [1] Members of racial and ethnic minority groups, those living in rural areas, low-income individuals and the uninsured are disproportionately affected by cancer, yet often have limited access to cancer screenings, care and treatment. [2-5]

As a collective, Alliance program grantees will work to improve the coordination of patient care from diagnosis through survivorship; strengthen patient engagement in treatment decisions and overall patient-provider communication; build community partnerships that address barriers to care related to social determinants of health; and provide essential psychosocial support services.

For decades, providing equal access to cancer care and support services for underserved communities throughout southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi has been a paramount focus for the Cancer Center. Through the Prevention on the Go program, now in its 20th year, free and convenient cancer screenings are made available to communities on a regular basis through the use of three mobile medical units. By bringing preventative screenings to residents where they live, work, worship and shop, Mary Bird Perkins removes significant barriers that prevent early detection.

Beyond providing screenings and treatment, the Cancer Center comprehensively approaches patient care, physically, emotionally and mentally. Generous community donors, who are keenly aware of where local disparities remain, along with other grantors, make it possible for patients to access early detection, navigation services, transportation assistance and financial support.

“The severity of the need to take action on advancing equity in cancer care cannot be overstated and will not be overlooked,” said Carmen Villar, CEO of the Merck Foundation. “We must move with urgency and work together to provide all people living with cancer access to high-quality care and treatment. The creation of the Alliance is an important step toward ensuring social determinants of health no longer factor into an individual’s ability to receive vital health care.”

In addition to Mary Bird Perkins, Alliance program grantees include: Boston Medical Center; Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University; Conquer Cancer®, the ASCO Foundation; Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; RWJBarnabas Health; and University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center.

Nicole J. Honoré, a 25-year veteran of Louisiana nonprofit administration, has been hired to oversee day-to-day implementation and oversight of the five-year grant for Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center.

The Foundation is also supporting a National Program Office at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center, in partnership with the VCU Center on Health Disparities, which will assist Alliance program grantees in building partnerships with community based organizations and provide technical assistance to support their programs. Additionally, the National Program Office will evaluate the effectiveness of Alliance programs and identify and promote best practices that can enhance the delivery of cancer care in the United States.

Alliance program grantees will convene regularly with the National Program Office to discuss learnings, share insights and explore tangible actions to support the delivery of equitable cancer care within their local communities and beyond.

About Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center
Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center is a regional cancer care organization that has been fighting cancer for more than 50 years. The cancer care organization provides care at nine centers in Baton Rouge, Covington, Hammond, Houma, Gonzales, Slidell, and Natchez, Mississippi, and its service area encompasses southeast Louisiana and southwest Mississippi regions. Mary Bird Perkins has a strategic affiliation with OneOncology and the largest radiation and medical oncology groups from across the area including exclusive partnerships with Southeastern Louisiana Radiation Oncology Group, which provides radiation therapy throughout Mary Bird Perkins’ service areas, Northshore Oncology Associates, serving St. Tammany and Washington Parishes, specifically the communities of Covington and Slidell and Louisiana Hematology Oncology Associates, which services the Greater Baton Rouge area. For more information, please visit

About the Merck Foundation                                                                                              The Merck Foundation is a U.S.-based, private charitable foundation. Established in 1957 by Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, the Foundation is funded entirely by the company and is Merck’s chief source of funding support to qualified non-profit charitable organizations. Since its inception, the Foundation has contributed nearly $1 billion to support important initiatives that address critical global health and societal needs that are consistent with Merck’s purpose: to save and improve lives around the world. For more information, visit



  1. National Cancer Institute. (2020). Cancer Statistics. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  2. American Cancer Society. (2021). Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans 2019-2021. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  3. American Cancer Society. (2020). Cancer Facts & Figures for Hispanics/Latinos 2018-2020. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  4. Islami, F. et al. (2021). Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, Part 1: National Cancer Statistics. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 113 (12). 1648-1669.
  5. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2022). Racial Disparities in Cancer Outcomes, Screening, and Treatment. Retrieved April 3, 2022.