Underserved patients in the 13 counties surrounding Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (and beyond) have a new champion.
Pediatrician, UW Medicine/Harborview Medical Center attending physician and public health researcher Dr. Jay Mendoza has been named director of Fred Hutch’s Health Disparities Research Center, or HDRC, replacing longtime health disparities leader Dr. Beti Thompson, who is, in her words, “gradually” stepping down from the role. Mendoza also will serve as associate director for Minority Health and Health Disparities for the Fred Hutch/ University of Washington Cancer Consortium and as associate head of the Hutch’s Cancer Prevention Program.
An investigator at Seattle Children’s Research Institute since 2013, Mendoza became a joint associate member of the Public Health Sciences Division this year but has been affiliated with the division since 2014. Mendoza said he’s thrilled to join the health disparities team and help grow the center’s community engagement and outreach.
“It’s a really wonderful team to lead —small but mighty,” he said. “Beti is helping in the transition period given she has so much experience in leading the health disparities work at the Hutch. I look forward to continuing her incredible work and to build more bridges between Fred Hutch and Consortium researchers, and the community.”
Formed in 2002, the Fred Hutch/UW Cancer Consortium is a research collaboration comprising Fred Hutch, UW, Seattle Children's and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The Consortium is recognized as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center through its dedication to developing research programs, faculty and facilities that will lead to better approaches to prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.
The Consortium brings together more than 500 faculty with interests in basic science, clinical and translational research, public health sciences and global health related to cancer.
One of Mendoza’s biggest tasks will be to transform the four-person HDRC into the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement in accordance with the requirements of the Hutch’s NCI Cancer Center Support Grant, or CCSG, which funds the research infrastructure that enhances collaborative, transdisciplinary research.
“Our focus will be to connect Hutch and Consortium researchers with communities and community groups to reduce the cancer burden throughout the 13-county catchment area that we serve,” he said. “The Hutch already has a very impressive research portfolio and research accomplishments. What we’re going to do is extend those accomplishments and benefits to all populations in the catchment area, especially those who’ve had a difficult time connecting with the Hutch and the Cancer Consortium.”
Much like the HDRC, the new Office of Community Outreach and Engagement will focus on underserved populations: those from rural areas, those of low income, minorities, the LGBTQ community, the elderly and other groups. But the new OCOE office will be better resourced and supported by the full Cancer Consortium.
“I’m excited about seeing new faces coming in to our campus and off-campus events, participating in research, and also receiving cancer prevention, screening and survivorship services,” he said. “I’m excited we will reach people who we missed in the past.”
Mendoza already has a handful of ideas to better serve patients who may be falling through the cancer-care cracks. These include:
Expanding existing partnerships and infrastructure, particularly in rural regions.
Extending the reach of the Hutch and its clinical care partner Seattle Cancer Care Alliance through clinical partner sites on the Olympic Peninsula, in Skagit County and other areas.
Bumping up recruitment and retention of underrepresented populations in clinical trials and public health studies.
Thompson, who created the Hutch’s Health Disparities Research Center in 2011 and has served it diligently ever since, said Mendoza was the perfect choice to grow the HDRC and its community outreach efforts.
“Jay Mendoza is a great person to take over my responsibilities as a lead in health disparities and community research,” she said. “I cannot think of a better person to head this.”
Thompson said she would continue to work with Mendoza to ensure that the Health Disparities Research Center is the core of the new Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, which she termed “a win-win for the Cancer Consortium.”
“As we apply for our CCSG renewal, this office will play an important part in setting the stage for even more community interaction,” she said. “Jay has been the major player in that role. And as I gradually step down, I am pleased to leave my work in good hands.”
Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at doublewhammied.com and tweets @double_whammied. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.