The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the world's largest network of breast cancer survivors and activists, announced Wednesday that it would no longer grant funds to Planned Parenthood Federation of America for breast health education and cancer screenings.
The decision blindsided the local affiliates of both groups. According to Planned Parenthood, anti-abortion groups have "repeatedly targeted and boycotted" the Komen foundation for partnering with it for breast health education. The Tidewater Komen affiliate and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia, however, have had a mutually supportive relationship to promote breast health and cancer screenings throughout the region.
"We've had great relations," says Pat Hurd, CEO of Planned Parenthood. "I don't know the motivation."
The Tidewater region, which stretches from Hampton Roads to the Eastern Shore, has both a higher rate of diagnosis — one in six as compared to one in eight — and a higher mortality rate from breast cancer than other regions of the state and country. African-American women suffer disproportionately poor outcomes, largely due to late diagnosis. When detected early, the survival rate from a diagnosis of breast cancer is 98 percent; when made late, it is 23 percent.
The two local groups have a history of mutual support with Planned Parenthood using Komen educational materials, and supporting and participating in Komen's annual Race for the Cure at Virginia Beach, its major annual fundraiser.
Seventy-five percent of the funds raised are distributed in grants to local organizations dedicated towomen's health. In 2010, when Komen had a bumper year and distributed more than $600,000 to groups in all 21 communities it serves, Planned Parenthood received its first grant. It used the almost $19,000 to expand its breast health education, particularly targeting young African-American women, ages 18 to 35, who tend to be overlooked.
"No one was really filling that niche." says Erin Zabel, marketing director for Planned Parenthood. "Our goal is to educate young women about breast health; then, when they move into a higher-risk category, they'll recognize a problem."
The grant enabled them to teach 200 young women self-exams, develop educational materials and outreach for 5,000 more, and target Hispanic women through a series of radio public service announcements. "We actually doubled our grant numbers for training and education," says Hurd.
Last week, Planned Parenthood submitted a 2012 grant request for $36,000 to continue funding educational outreach and to add 40 mammograms for uninsured or underinsured women using Sentara Leigh's mobile mammography unit. (While Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia conducts clinical breast exams in both its Hampton and Virginia Beach clinics, all mammograms are referred out to the community.) Lack of transportation to facilities is a major factor in low-income women not meeting screening guidelines, which in turn leads to late — and often fatal — diagnoses.
The Komen announcement has temporarily stymied this initiative. Miki Donovan, mission manager for the Tidewater affiliate assures that the group will continue to supply Planned Parenthood with materials for educational outreach. "We will do whatever we can to promote breast education. We're both there forwomen's health," she says. She adds that current Komen grants, which run through March, are funding 2,000 mammograms in the region, including 400 through Riverside.
"We're still hoping they change their mind," says Hurd, who had not received any explanation for the national decision. "I remain shocked, saddened and disappointed."
On Thursday, local Komen representatives directed questions to the national organization for an official statement. On its website, Komen founder Nancy G. Brinkman spoke about "new granting strategies" in a 3 1/2-minute video, "Straight Talk." She cited a desire to provide grants to providers of direct services, such as mammograms, and noted that the "strategic shift will affect numerous grantees."
Ironically, Hurd saw a clip while waiting with his wife, Betsi, for her first radiation treatment for her breast cancer. "I see nothing to suggest that there are other organizations that they're taking similar steps with," he said. "As the CEO, and the spouse of someone going through the disease, I'm sad and troubled."
The public backlash, at both the national and local levels, has been immediate. Locally, Planned Parenthood received more than two dozen donations totaling a couple of thousand dollars in 24 hours. Additionally, a major local donor to Komen, while noting that he wasn't particularly pro-choice, redirected his gift to Planned Parenthood, says Zabel. Nationally, Planned Parenthood received over $400,000 for its Emergency Breast Fund in the same time period, and the local affiliate anticipates it may receive some of the largesse to compensate for the loss of Komen's grant.
"There's been such an outpouring. We're now seeing support from a wider range of political opinion," says Zabel.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun