POINT OF VIEW: Hurricane Irma creates breast cancer health challenge

Updated Jan 23, 2018

As we celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, it is incumbent upon all Americans to uphold not only the spirit of his ideals but also his dedication to action in support of equality. In Florida, there is perhaps no better example of where this is sorely needed today, than among the health care needs of two very distinct populations: African-American communities predisposed to triple negative breast cancer, and those who have been displaced by the storms that devastated Puerto Rico and the Gulf Coast. Our government resources are stretched to the limit, but hardworking community activists, health care workers and innovative charities are stepping up in South Florida to address this health crisis.

Since October, more than 239,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in Florida, according to state figures. Hurricane Irma’s impact on the state has forced our communities to redirect vital resources in support of immediate recovery needs, weakening our already vulnerable health care system. This leaves women at greater risk of going undiagnosed with breast cancer or unable to access free or reduce-fee services. Those receiving treatment when the storms struck, those now unable to see their doctors, families and support groups separated by the natural disasters are all looking to organizations like Susan G. Komen South Florida.

Komen is committed to being the first responder to breast health, and we accomplish that mission through grants made to community based health resources. Our grantees are on the ground providing care through Komen funding to residents of Florida, Texas and anyone who has sought refuge in our state from Puerto Rico or other disaster-stricken areas. We are operating in a crisis, and to meet the challenge a new initiative was created.

The Promise Fund was born out of a critical need to respond to this growing health crisis in Florida. The fund will assist in establishing a network of community-based breast health navigators working on the neighborhood level to navigate patients in high risk communities. It will provide education, connections to free or reduced care and follow up to insure the patient is actively involved in treatment. It will also fund health safety net services that support screening, diagnosis and care for breast health. Lastly, the fund will address health equity for people of color, those in poverty and other disadvantaged groups through public policy and culturally competent programs.

Shades of Pink is another breast health equity initiative by Komen South Florida to address breast health disparities in the African-American community by providing education and outreach to build knowledge about triple negative breast cancer and its impact on communities of color. African-American women have a 41 percent higher mortality rate vs. their Caucasian counterparts. Our goal is to make triple negative a household conversation in the same way that BRCA 1 and 2 are.

It is clear that we need coordinated, long-term planning by local, state and federal partners to bring about racial equality when it comes to health care administration among Florida populations. It is an opportunity to raise our gaze and renew the spirit in which we serve one another. Such was the calling of Rev. King, and the spirit in which The Promise Fund and Shades of Pink were founded.

NANCY BRINKER AND KATE WATT, PALM BEACH

Editor’s note: Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer charity name after her sister. Kate Watt is executive director of Susan G. Komen’s South Florida affiliate.