Regional cancer services task force moves forward, hires health assessment and research for communities

A coalition of county and city officials, public health officials, medical professionals, health care organizations, hospital administrators, university medical schools, cancer survivors, caregivers, and nonprofit organizations that provide cancer resources have formed a Regional Cancer Treatment Task Force to explore the various types of high-quality cancer services that exist or are missing in the area and to develop plans to address gaps, attract specialized oncologists and perhaps a specialized state-of-the-art cancer facility and to educate the community about available resources.

In the first meeting Nov. 3, epidemiologist Salomeh Wagaw of Riverside University Health System presented statistics to the group illustrating that cancer is the second-highest leading cause of death in California and more locally that 18 percent of deaths in Temecula are cancer-related.

A few citizens diagnosed with cancer shared their stories of traveling out of the region for treatment and services.

“Our Valley has grown tremendously, yet residents who are faced with such a challenging disease are often faced with driving several hours roundtrip to Orange County or San Diego to receive ongoing specialized cancer treatment,” Temecula Mayor Pro-Tem Maryann Edwards said. “We need to ease the burden of those suffering from cancer and develop world-class cancer treatment and resource options in our own backyard.”

A number of medical professionals and hospital administrators said that there are specialized services available locally, but that the public may not be aware of them.

The task force agreed to address various topics including legislative, health care and insurance concerns, facilities, services and pharmaceutical needs, as well as possible economic incentives to attract medical groups, cancer professionals, physicians and philanthropy to invest in the region. The group plans to provide its recommendations in October 2017.

In their second meeting, January 2017, the group determined that they needed a comprehensive listing of existing services and a gap analysis of missing services. To that end, they determined they needed a facilitator and consultant capable of providing the needs assessment study. They put out a request for proposal, as well as a request for multi-agency funding.

At the third meeting, April 20, Cheryl Kitzerow from the city of Temecula, reported that $85,000 in funding had been committed to the task force. The city of Temecula committed $20,000, the city of Lake Elsinore committed $10,000 and the city of Riverside committed $20,000 in utilized funds from the Western Riverside Council of Government’s Beyond Core program. The city of Menifee committed $7,500 and the city of Murrieta committed $7,500 in utilized funds from the WRCOG Beyond Health program. WRCOG that deals with issues affecting the region; its executive committee includes representatives from 17 cities, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, the Eastern and Western Municipal Water Districts and the Morongo Band of Indians. Inland Empire Health Plan provided $20,000.

Erica Russo from the city of Temecula reported on the selection process for the facilitator and consultant and explained that their selection, Health Assessment and Research for Communities could fulfill both roles. HARC provided the first survey of health in the Coachella Valley in 2006 and has since served clients from coast to coast, including Kaiser and Susan G. Komen. Their expertise in needs assessment, the social determinants of health and data collection and analysis, were key factors in their selection.

Russo introduced HARC CEO Jenna LeComte-Hinely, Ph.D.., who described their plan of attack to gather and collate secondary data of what exists, to design the needs assessment tools, to implement data collection for the community and provider surveys, to complete the data analysis and report generation and to develop an implementation plan based on findings. HARC plans on presenting the final report at the Nov. 17 meeting.

During the public comments section, Natalie Flick, a single mother with three children, related her cancer experience with insurance challenges, her search for local neurosurgeons and the need for “standard of care” versus failure-based, trial-and-error treatment protocols. She also praised Michelle’s Place for its support services, noting however that “last year we lost seven girls.”

JJ Petchel, whose wife Tonya was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer May 2015 and died Jan. 24, shared his wife’s story and his efforts to place Tonya’s Law as an initiative on the ballot for the November 2018 California General Election. The initiative seeks “to update state and federal law to more closely align and promote future cancer treatments, resulting in saving or prolonging more cancer patients’ lives.” It also promotes a public education movement to inspire cancer patients to seek DNA sequencing of their cancer for specific treatment options. For more information, visit www.tonyaslaw.org.

Andrea Anderson, an office manager for a medical oncology practice, shared a number of issues: the Valley has a 20 percent higher incidence of cancer than other areas; that university-level care is available locally; that many are ignorant of the actual cost of cancer treatment; that many do not understand Medicare coverage and that the Valley needs a foundation to help patients with the cost of drugs and treatment.

The next Regional Cancer Services Task Force meeting is May 25. For questions or concerns, contact HARC at (760) 404-1945.

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