Originally created 05/16/03

Cancer network earns honor



Even from across the Savannah River, Jane Floyd could see what a regional program designation from the Georgia Cancer Coalition might mean for patients like her.

"It would be great for the CSRA," said Ms. Floyd, 62, of Graniteville, who is being treated for endometrial cancer at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

On Thursday, Augusta and Athens leaders were notified that the East Georgia Cancer Network had been designated a Regional Program of Excellence. The Georgia Cancer Research Center, a proposal from the Medical College of Georgia and the University of Georgia, was granted a provisional designation as a Center of Excellence. Cancer networks centered around Albany and Savannah also received regional program designations.

The announcements cap a two-year battle by Augusta leaders to get recognition and funding to improve treatment and research. The cancer coalition will receive another round of applications May 30 and will decide on funding afterward, hopefully in June, said Vice President Nancy Paris.

The programs have not been told how much funding might be available because "we have some and we're hoping to assemble more," including grants from private foundations, Ms. Paris said. The coalition is funded primarily by part of the state's tobacco settlement money.

MCG/UGA and the regional programs will be asked to address questions raised by the 15-member expert review panel that scored the proposals, Coalition President Russ Toal said.

Still, "we're off and running," said Dr. Frank Rumph, the East Central Health District director and co-principal investigator for the East Georgia Cancer Network.

The program is a vast, sprawling project that includes 29 hospitals and nearly 3,000 physicians from Augusta, Athens and 27 surrounding counties, many of them rural and underserved. Its $47 million, three-year proposal envisions a broad menu of improved services, from "nurse navigators" that will guide patients through treatment to a tissue bank that would coordinate tissue samples from patients that might later be used in research.

The related Georgia Cancer Research Center asked for $60 million over three years to form a collaborative series of research projects and cancer specialist training programs.

The regional programs have been long-sought symbols of civic pride for Georgia's second-tier cities since Emory University and Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta landed the first one in 2001. Augusta and Savannah community leaders, in particular, have jockeyed for two years to come up with proposals that would make them the next designee.

"I think it can have a profound impact on health care in this region and health care in Georgia," MCG President Daniel W. Rahn said. "I'm very excited about it, but there's a lot of work ahead."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tomc@augustachronicle.com.