Originally created 11/30/00

Barnes pushes cancer facility



ATLANTA - Three world-class cancer centers would open in Georgia during the next five to seven years under a plan announced Wednesday by Gov. Roy Barnes, making the state a leader in research, prevention and treatment of the disease.

Although no sites have been identified, the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta is considered a strong candidate to land one of the centers.

"We already have a lot of the infrastructure," MCG President Francis J. Tedesco said after the governor's announcement at the Capitol. "I would be surprised if we weren't one of the major centers."

Mr. Barnes said he will ask the General Assembly for $250 million to $400 million to fund the multiyear initiative, which he said would carry a total price tag of $800 million to $1 billion. The state's portion of the money would come primarily from Georgia's share of the national tobacco settlement, he said.

"I have said all along that I wanted two-thirds of the tobacco settlement to be spent on health care," the governor said. "For the life of me, I cannot think of a better place to spend it for the improvement of health."

When Mr. Barnes announced the initiative six months ago, he cited the disparity between the severity of cancer in Georgia and the availability of funds to fight the disease.

Georgia has the highest rate of prostate cancer in the country and ranks above the national average in incidences of breast, colon and lung cancers. Yet, Georgia is only 27th in federal funding for cancer research, even though it's the 10th-largest state and the third-fastest growing.

Since May, a committee of state health officials, academics and medical leaders has been looking for ways to muster the state's already formidable resources - including four medical schools, several research universities and the national headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - to tackle the problem.

What they came up with was a public-private partnership rolled out by Mr. Barnes on Wednesday. The Georgia Cancer Coalition would pull together leading hospitals and universities, biotechnology companies, civic and nonprofit groups and government agencies, to focus on the following goals:

Preventing cancer and detecting existing cancers earlier through education and screening

Improving access to quality care by establishing a statewide treatment network

Training top-quality cancer researchers and care givers

Recruiting pharmaceutical and research jobs to Georgia

Saving more lives by bringing the best doctors, treatment methods and technology to Georgia

Along with the proposed cancer centers, Mr. Barnes said he will seek funding to bring 150 eminent clinicians and scientists to coordinate research at Georgia's medical centers and work to develop treatment methods.

The centers would anchor a statewide cancer treatment network that also would include satellite centers in hospitals and coordination with physicians in private practice.

In explaining the need for such a statewide network, Mr. Barnes cited a recent report from the Georgia Department of Human Resources that found cancer death rates higher than the state average in the Augusta area, parts of coastal Georgia and rural counties in east and south Georgia.

The report found the lowest cancer death rates in the suburban counties near Atlanta, where access to medical care is greatest.

"If you live in rural Georgia, if you live outside the Atlanta area, then your chances of surviving are greatly reduced if you have cancer," said Mr. Barnes. "That is something that we should not allow to occur in this state."

"I think there's a real commitment to have a least one (center) that's located in a rural area," added state Community Health Commissioner Russ Toal.

Mr. Barnes stressed the massive commitment he envisions is too big for the state to handle alone.

"The price is too costly, and the scope is too vast for any one entity to manage," he said. "If we are going to make this happen, we will have to have the financial support of foundations, pharmaceutical and biotechnological firms and corporations and businesses throughout Georgia."

Cancer mortality rates

A recent report found that cancer death rates between 1994 and 1998 were higher than the state average across large swaths of rural east and south Georgia, the Augusta area and in parts of coastal Georgia. Average to below-average cancer death rates occurred in northeast Georgia and in the suburban counties surrounding Atlanta. In the Augusta area, only Columbia County men and Greene County women had cancer mortality rates below the state average during the five-year study period. Most of the region exceeded the state average for both men and women:

......................Male....................Female

County.........Deaths.......Rate*.......Deaths.........Rate*

Burke.................22.........253.6.........20.............152.8

Columbia..........56.........198.2.........54.............141.2

Greene.............16.........242.6.........12..............133.4

McDuffie...........23.........237.5.........21..............151.6

Richmond.........210.........267.1....... 175...........149.4

State.............6,818.........227.3......5,896...........135.5

*Rate is the number of deaths per 100,000 individuals.

Sources: Georgia Department of Human Resources; American Cancer Society, Southeastern Division

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.

Treatment goals set by coalition

The Georgia Cancer Coalition will focus on the following goals:

Preventing cancer and detecting existing cancers earlier through education and screening

Improving access to quality care by establishing a statewide treatment network

Training top-quality cancer researchers and care givers

Recruiting pharmaceutical and research jobs to Georgia

Saving more lives by bringing the best doctors, treatment methods and technology to Georgia