04/14/10 — Still ... ready to Relay?

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Still ... ready to Relay?

By Laura Collins
Published in News on April 14, 2010 1:46 PM


Cancer survivor Samuel Campbell asks a question of American Cancer Society spokesman Chris Green at a forum held at the First Pentecostal Holiness Church in Goldsboro Tuesday.

The message was made perfectly clear Tuesday -- while they might have different paths for reaching the end result, the American Cancer Society and Southeastern Medical Oncology Center are united in the fight against cancer and for those who are battling the disease.

At Tuesday night's American Cancer Society community forum, cancer society, Relay for Life and SMOC officials emphasized that the relationship between the cancer society and the center is not adversarial.

SMOC will have a booth at Relay for Life and will hand out free hot dogs, said Bo Gamble, SMOC administrator. He said the practice wants to support and to encourage their patients who are a part of the event.

ACS North Carolina Vice President Pam Stallings addressed each group's goals.

"We are partners in the fight, but our goals are different," she said. "Theirs is patient care, and ours is to eliminate the disease."

She added there is nothing wrong with supporting both the American Cancer Society and Southeastern Medical Oncology Center.

Nearly 50 people attended the forum at First Pentecostal Holiness Church. Chris Green, vice president of communications for the American Cancer Society South Atlantic Division, opened the event by discussing ACS finances. The organization is a $1 billion per year enterprise. Through its research grants, the American Cancer Society has funded 44 Nobel prize winners over the years.

"We fund ideas that lead to cures and treatments," Green said.

Green also went over how ACS funds are allocated. The following is the breakdown for 2008:

* Research: 15 percent ($156 million)

* Prevention: 18 percent ($189 million)

* Patient support: 26 percent ($268 million)

* Detection/treatment: 14 percent ($142 million)

* Management: 7 percent ($73 million)

* Fundraising: 20 percent ($213 million)

Questions were raised about the salary paid to American Cancer Society chief executive officer John Seffrin. Brian Mooring of Goldsboro said it's hard to convince people to sponsor his Relay For Life team when the CEO is making $1 million.

Green said the $1 million is a compensation package that includes not only salary but also retirement and health care. He added that the ACS board of directors is a volunteer group that has a "thoughtful process" for how to compensate the organization's leaders.

"We don't want to be the highest paid and we don't want to be the lowest," he said, adding that the organization wants to pay enough to retain someone competent and capable of running a $1 billion enterprise.

Samuel Campbell, a Goldsboro cancer survivor, asked for further explanation on Dr. James Atkins and SMOC's decision to no longer financially support the ACS.

Gamble spoke on behalf of SMOC and answered Campbell's question pointing to higher costs as a large part of the decision.

"We're about the patients, but we're also struggling," Gamble said.

Gamble said the center spends about $1.2 million each month for prescription drugs and because of cuts at the federal level, the cost of treating a patient is becoming increasingly expensive.

"Since 2004, there has been a 35 percent cut in drug administration. More cuts are scheduled through 2013 and will total 43 percent," he said. "We, and all other types of physicians, are going month to month in attempt to prevent a 21 percent cut from Medicare for all services. Fifty percent of our patients are Medicare patients."

Additionally, Gamble said the practice would rather direct its fundraising to assist patients at the local level through Pennies for Angels, a non-profit organization housed at SMOC. The non-profit, which has its own governing board separate from SMOC, helps patients with everyday needs they might have, like utility bills, rides, co-pays, food, funeral expenses, clothes, housing or car repairs.

Ethel N. Barnes, a Wayne County Relay for Life official, asked Gamble if SMOC is benefiting financially from funds raised for Pennies for Angels.

"No. Last year, Pennies for Angles took in $18,000 and gave out (to patients) $18,000," he said.

Mooring, who has several family members who have had cancer, said another obstacle in raising money has been people's perception that American Cancer Society money doesn't come back to Wayne County and asked why the ACS doesn't help fund SMOC.

"We want to raise money for cancer," Mooring said. "But people come up to me and don't have a clue where it goes. It's hard to get sponsors because people think no money comes back."

Second-generation cancer survivor Sherl Sauls echoed Mooring's concerns.

"My heart is with SMOC and my heart is with the American Cancer Society," she said. "The biggest thing I see in Wayne County is that the community has not been educated through the years about how the money is allocated."

Ms. Sauls went on to question why the ACS doesn't give grant money to SMOC for its clinical trials.

Green explained that a "blind peer review process" is used to decide where funding goes.

"We want to fund the best ideas," he said. "We stand on that, and we protect that system."

Green and Ms. Stallings both said that while not all money raised in Wayne County comes back to Wayne County, funding used in research that leads to advancements in treatment helps all cancer patients.

"Our mission is to eliminate cancer as a disease," Ms. Stallings said. "The best way to do that is to fund research."

Additionally, people in Wayne County have access to ACS services including the 24-hour information hotline, the Greenville Hope Lodge, the Hope Lodge Van and the Dietitian on Call Program, among others.