Alameda Health System’s (AHS) integrated breast cancer care team were honored at this year’s American Cancer Society (ACS) East Bay Gala for their outstanding efforts in helping to reduce disparities in breast cancer care for the patients and communities we serve. The Gala took place Thursday, October 7, 2021.
The ACS recognized the team for their exemplary work in the fight against cancer and the advancement of health equity. In addition, AHS was nominated by the ACS Control Team and board of ambassadors to receive a grant to further cancer treatment and prevention.
Out of 118 grant proposals submitted as part of the Addressing Racial Disparities in Cancer Project, a collaboration between the ACS and Pfizer Inc., AHS was the only health care organization on the West Coast selected to receive a $400,000 grant for addressing disparities in diagnostic delays for breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.
“The grant is a testament to the collective work of our outstanding medical oncologists, cancer surgeons and radiologists, dedicated to improving the quality of care and treatment for all patients in our diverse and underserved community,” said Dr. Kevin Knopf, chairman of the Oncology Department and a leading architect of the breast cancer program at AHS.
According to Knopf, some of the funds from the grant will be directed toward key priorities including reducing the time from a breast cancer diagnosis to initial treatment of patients and ensuring breast cancer treatment for each patient is appropriate and cost effective.
Also, continuing to build the cancer database will be a major focus of the funding. “A complete and detailed collection of data about breast cancer and every cancer is the key to understanding this complex disease especially in underserved communities,” shared Knopf.
The AHS cancer database records the symptoms people have, how their cancer is diagnosed, how they respond to treatment and how their own cancer progresses over time. It can help identify patterns of breast cancer in different patient populations. For example, this information can be used to look for trends over time and find breast cancer patterns in people of color which helps determine the best course of treatment.
Ultimately, for Knopf and AHS the goal is to continue to build a world-class breast cancer treatment clinic that serves all. The building process began more than three years ago when Dr. Knopf and Dr. Khoury sat down to brainstorm ideas about how AHS might improve breast cancer care. “It was just the beginning of a long process in developing programs and cancer services to drive quality improvement as well as data collection,” he said.
Joining the effort was a core team including Dr. Amal Khoury, Dr. Annie Tang, Patient Navigator Zhonnet Harper, Physician Assistant Karina Powell-Hal and Dr. Louise Troung. Collectively, they worked to create a breast cancer program focused on reducing disparities and delivering the best possible care for each patient.
They started with a series of meetings and conferences to identify and adopt the best patterns of care and then started to map out breast cancer clinic at AHS-Highland Hospital. “Our breast cancer patients were always at the center of this work and guiding us to make things better for them, said Knopf.
One of the team’s first stops on this journey to delivering world-class breast cancer care at AHS was the George Washington (GW) University Cancer Center in Washington D.C. that provides professional health care education for patient-centered initiatives and health equity.
Members of the team attended a week-long program at the GW Cancer Center participating in seminars and interactive workshops designed to address the diverse needs of patients across the breast cancer care continuum from an adverse screening through post-treatment cancer survivorship.
For Harper, the main take-away from the program reinforced the responsibility as health care providers to address and remove inequities within our health care system. “At AHS each patient faces different challenges and have unique needs as they go through treatment whether it’s emotional, financial, healthy food, transportation or family support,” she said. Health and racial inequities are additional barriers that can further complicate and diminish patient care leading to poorer health outcomes. “As a breast cancer Patient Navigator, I must be aware of those additional barriers to ensure our patients receive equitable treatment,” says Zhonnet.
In addition, the team took best practices from the GW Cancer Center back to AHS and continued to strategize and refine the breast cancer program and today that work continues. This collective effort is what led to the ACS award and corresponding grant. “It’s a privilege to work alongside this dedicated team to further reduce health care disparities in our cancer patients,” said Knopf.
The event was a timely opportunity to bring awareness during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October, and the importance of maintaining breast health.
“This honor from the ACS means so much to me as a member of the team recognized for its tireless efforts and dedication in helping to build the AHS breast cancer program,” said Powell. “It’s the support from medical assistants, patient navigators, oncologists, plastic surgeons and radiologists that have allowed us to continue moving forward and serving our patients with the honor and respect they deserve,” she said.
This is the second consecutive year the AHS’ breast cancer team has been recognized by the ACS East Bay Gala. In October 2020, Patient Navigator, Zhonnet Harper, was honored as a Health Equity Champion. These successive honors are real testament to the dedication and hard work of the breast cancer team.
AHS grant funds are managed by AHS Foundation which works to raise support from private and corporate foundations and individual donors for AHS’s priorities. Over the years, AHS Foundation has partnered closely with AHS’s Breast Cancer team to secure funds for patient navigation services and for emergency assistance for patients during their cancer treatment.
For more information on cancer risks, signs and prevention visit:
The American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/
The National Cancer Institute (NIH): Https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention
To support AHS Foundation’s efforts to raise funds for AHS’s priorities visit: https://give.classy.org/ahsfoundation