SANTA MONICA (Nov. 16, 2021) – Providence Saint John’s Health Center, renowned for leading-edge cancer care and research, has donated $2 million to the Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) Colorectal Cancer Health Equity Dream Team and its commitment to address colorectal cancer screening disparities in medically underserved communities.
Saint John’s joins another major supporter of the team; Madison, Wis.-based Exact Sciences Corp., a molecular diagnostics company specializing in the detection of early-stage cancers, which will contribute an estimated $6 million in support of the Dream Team.
Anton Bilchik, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S., professor of surgery and chief of the gastrointestinal research program at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute, will co-lead the Dream Team, which will bring together leading researchers, patient advocates, community leaders, and clinicians to accomplish several goals, including improving colorectal cancer screening in underserved communities.
“Providence and SU2C have collaborated to change the inequities in colorectal cancer and increase screening rates to 80 percent, led by a Dream Team of researchers,” said Dr. Bilchik, who also serves as and chairman of the division of general surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. “The Dream Team’s members, all from major academic institutions, bring a deep understanding of racial/ethnic minority communities and health inequities regionally and nationally through their extensive career experience and published research.”
Jennifer Haas, M.D., M.Sc., at Massachusetts General Hospital and Folasade P. May, M.D., Ph.D., M.Phil., at the University of California, Los Angeles, join Dr. Bilchik in leading this team. Additional team members are from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Great Plains Tribal Leaders Health Board.
Dream Team strategy
The team will address colorectal cancer inequities through screening, research, education, and training in three SU2C Zones: Greater Los Angeles, Greater Boston, and the Great Plains Tribal Communities in South Dakota. These zones include diverse and distinct communities that are medically underserved and have particularly low screening rates for colorectal cancer, the second most common cause of cancer-related death in American men and women combined.
The effort was already a priority locally, as Dr. Bilchik previously began research in the molecular and immunology laboratories at Saint John’s Cancer Institute to better understand why colon cancer cases are occurring at a younger age and whether they are preventable. Preliminary findings have identified some key differences in young people with colon cancer that could be applied to the Dream Team’s strategy, Bilchik said.
“Lowering the colorectal cancer screening age to 45 is an important step as we look to save more lives from this preventable cancer,” Dr. Bilchik said. “But given the disproportionate impact on medically underserved communities, raising awareness for colorectal cancer and screening options remains critical. This team has a tremendous opportunity to create solutions that can be used as national models for integrated colorectal cancer outreach and screening.”
Under the leadership of Dr. Bilchik, Providence will design and deploy a community-based campaign to increase colorectal cancer screening rates in demographically diverse areas within Los Angeles. Providence will recruit and deploy community health action teams (CHATs) – residents trained and supported to work as health promoters and care navigators within their own neighborhoods – to implement a locally designed and operated colorectal cancer screening campaign. CHATs won’t stop with screening; they will accompany participating Providence patients along the journey from screening to treatment to survivorship.
To increase convenience and accessibility, at-home screening tests for colorectal cancer will be provided to unscreened community members. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently reduced the screening age from 50 to 45, this test will be offered to individuals 40 and above because of the increase in colon cancer in younger people. Any required follow-up colonoscopies will be provided free for uninsured or under-insured participants.
Providence is committed to addressing health inequity
Saint John’s parent organization Providence, one of the nation’s largest health care systems, recognized health disparities last year as COVID-19 cases soared, and committed to an investment of $50 million over the next five years as part of an effort to achieve health equity.
A study led by Providence, published in the International Journal for Health Equity, found that 11 sociodemographic and environmental factors contribute to higher COVID-19 infection and transmission rates among vulnerable populations. These results highlight the urgency and complexity of addressing health disparities in the immediate term to help mitigate the inequitable impacts of the pandemic.
And as part of its ongoing efforts to identify and prioritize inequities within the communities it serves, Providence’s investment will develop data-driven strategies to improve health equity and reduce disparities aside from COVID-19. Partnering closely with Providence regions throughout its seven-state system to identify specific health disparities in their local communities, Providence is leveraging existing system and regional tools, resources and programs to ensure its investment has the greatest impact on the greater number of people.
“A crucial component of this effort is listening to and partnering with our communities to understand the structural and cultural barriers at the local level,” said President and CEO Rod Hochman, M.D. “Providence believes that health is a human right, and therefore we are committed to ensuring everyone in our communities has an equal chance to achieve health.”
In Southern California, Providence has established a Diversity Council that is focused on three key areas of health discrepancies including limited access to potentially life-saving cancer screenings such as regular checks for colorectal cancers.
“Colorectal cancers can be prevented, or successfully treated in the early stages when they are identified through regular colorectal cancer screenings,” said Michael Ricks, chief executive of Providence Saint John’s in Santa Monica. “Unfortunately, rates for colorectal cancer screenings have fallen sharply since the pandemic began, especially in Black, Latinx, and American Indian populations already at risk for lack of screening. Providence Southern California is committed to outreach to address the disparity, in line with our vision of Health for a Better World.”
Colorectal cancer incidence and deaths are highest in Black Americans, followed closely by American Indians/Alaska Natives and lowest in Asians/Pacific Islanders. People with the lowest socioeconomic status are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer than those with the highest socioeconomic status. Additionally, screening rates for Americans 50 to 75 years old are the lowest in American Indians/Alaska Natives (56 percent,) followed by Asian people (58 percent,) Hispanic people (59 percent), Black people (66 percent), and White people (69 percent.)
About Providence Southern California
Providence Southern California is the region’s largest health system with 11 hospitals, two affiliated hospitals, more than 100 clinics, outpatient centers, TrinityCare Hospice and its TrinityKids Care pediatric hospice, Providence High School, home health care services, eight wellness centers, telehealth and numerous physician groups in its Southern California Region. Providence is committed to an enduring mission of outreach to the poor and vulnerable, and last year contributed $485 million in services, programs, and charity care to those in need.
About the Saint John’s Cancer Institute
Saint John’s Cancer Institute (formerly John Wayne Cancer Institute) is a world-class oncology research facility located in Santa Monica, Calif., that is dedicated to the understanding, diagnosis, and innovative treatment of cancer. Since its affiliation with Saint John’s Health Center 30 years ago, the institute combines the exceptional quality of Saint John’s medical staff and hospital with translational research, fellowships, and extensive global collaboration. Leading the remarkable charge of the institute was the late Donald L. Morton, M.D., whose persistent, scientific questioning of the role of the immune system in fighting cancer led to significant advances throughout his decorated career. The Saint John’s Cancer Institute also holds many patents involving noncoding RNA as a biomarker, Molecular Lymphatic Mapping, and predicting melanoma recurrence. The institute is located across from Providence Saint John’s Health Center — a premier health care facility that proudly serves the community and surrounding areas.
CONTACT: Patricia Aidem