It’s official — the Fred Hutch/University of Washington Cancer Consortium is now serving the entire Evergreen state.
For years, the Cancer Consortium — composed of Fred Hutch, the University of Washington, Seattle Children’s and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance — has served a “catchment,” or service area, of 13 Puget Sound counties, home to approximately 5.2 million people.
But starting Jan. 1, the Cancer Consortium’s catchment area grew to include the entire state of Washington, an addition of 26 counties, 2.3 million people, including several Indigenous tribes. Scientists within the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center will now, in addition to their many national and international research collaborations, begin to expand their regional research, engagement and outreach to include all residents of the state.
“The catchment area is an important aspect of our Cancer Consortium,” said Dr. Tom Lynch, Consortium director and president and director of Fred Hutch. “It’s a geographic representation of our Consortium’s reach into many different communities to help address their needs for understanding, preventing, and treating cancer.”
Lynch said not all U.S. counties are located within a cancer center’s catchment area — approximately 15% of U.S. counties, representing roughly 25 million people, are not covered.
“Whatever we can do to increase that coverage will help the aging U.S. population to have access to cancer-focused resources moving forward,” he said.
Pediatrician Dr. Jay Mendoza, a Fred Hutch public health researcher and director of the Consortium’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, or OCOE, said he was “ecstatic” about the expansion.
“Everybody in Washington state should see the Hutch and the Cancer Consortium as their cancer center,” he said. “Whether it’s for their own care or whether they’re looking for information or are interested in research. It should be a point of pride for Washington state. We’re the only comprehensive cancer center in the WWAMI [Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho] region.”
The Consortium and its partners are one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the country. These centers are recognized for their leadership and resources, their depth and breadth of research, and the substantial amount of transdisciplinary research that bridges various scientific areas.
“Comprehensive cancer centers are the full package — we cover the full continuum of cancer care, outreach, treatment and research,” Mendoza said.
While the expansion will not mean the addition of new clinical trial sites or expanded cancer care east of the mountains, it will mean many additional opportunities for outreach, education and community cancer prevention, much of which will happen through the Consortium’s OCOE.
The office, led by Mendoza and made up of a team of scientists and Community Health Educators, or CHEs, works to achieve health equity by promoting and organizing wellness programs such as preventive cancer screenings, home health parties, health fairs and more. Much of their work focuses on people or communities that have been marginalized or are underserved, such as Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, LGBTQ or rural residents.
Currently, they work with community organizations and nonprofits in the 13-county area, as well as in Sunnyside, Washington, where the Hutch has operated a satellite research center, the Center for Community Health Promotion, for decades.
Now they’ll be able to expand that outreach to all populations in the state.
Mendoza said OCOE data indicates the Cancer Consortium will be serving an additional 430,000 Hispanics; an additional 35,000 American Indians/Alaska Natives; an additional 30,000 people of Black or African descent and an additional 250,000 rural Washingtonians.
“We have our work cut out for us,” said Kathy Briant, assistant director of the OCOE and a member of the Hutch health disparities research team for nearly 20 years.
Briant is currently scoping out new office space in Spokane, and once they have a budget approved, the OCOE will hire two additional CHEs to work out of that office. They’ll be tasked with striking partnerships with local community groups, tribal health agencies and clinics, trying to find ways to dovetail the Consortium’s resources into ongoing public health efforts.
Unrelated to the catchment area expansion, the Cancer Consortium announced new leadership in January.
Dr. Mignon Loh, director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research and chief, Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapy at Seattle Children’s, and Dr. Elizabeth Swisher, director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at UW Medicine, will now serve as deputy directors of the Cancer Consortium. They replace Dr. Nancy Davidson, who served as the Consortium’s deputy director in addition to her ongoing roles as senior vice president and director of the Hutch’s Clinical Research Division, president and executive director of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and chief of medical oncology at UW. Davidson also holds the Raisbeck Endowed Chair for Collaborative Research at Fred Hutch.
Additionally, Dr. Marion Dorer, currently the vice president of Research Administration at Fred Hutch, now holds the additional role of associate director of Shared Resources for the Consortium.
“Having a physical presence is so important,” said Briant, who hopes the office will be up and running by July, pending budget approval. “Being in the community is what helps you build trust and build the partnerships. That’s what we’ve done with the CCHP office in the Yakima valley. We’re hoping that’s what we’ll be able to do in Spokane, as well.”
The two new CHEs won’t just be covering Spokane, though.
“They’ll be looking at the entire east side of Washington state,” Mendoza said. “They’ll be engaging with Indigenous tribes, with the rural communities. We want much stronger ties with the tribes in Eastern Washington and with the many rural counties which are underserved.”
The OCOE is currently conducting a needs assessment and stakeholder interviews for the additional 26 counties; they’re also conducting a population-based health care survey, funded by the Andy Hill CARE Fund, to learn more about the current health landscape on both sides of the state.
“We asked questions about where people go for information, how up-to-date they are with cancer screenings, do they have a place to go to get care,” Briant said. “It will help us understand the limitations.”
Briant said they’ll share findings with community partners and will work to plug in resource holes, whether it’s sending out a mobile mammography unit to conduct breast cancer screenings or launching new research studies.
“We need to know what organizations are out there, what services they’re offering, and try to identify where the gaps are,” she said. “We need to sit with people and listen to learn how to best help support and raise up what they’re doing. We’re the new kids on the block — they’re the experts.”
Mendoza is just happy the expansion, long a dream, has finally happened.
“We’ve always thought the 13-county catchment area was a good start because it covered most of the population of the state,” he said. “But it left out two million very important people.”
Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer 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. Just diagnosed and need information and resources?
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