SF breast cancer services
hope for Komen comeback
by Catherine Pickavet
Two San Francisco groups dedicated to supporting low-income and uninsured women with breast cancer are preparing for a tough budget season due to controversy that rocked the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation earlier this year.
The Breast Cancer Emergency Fund and Lyon-Martin Health Services are almost certain to take a hit in their 2013 budgets once the San Francisco Bay Area affiliate of Komen calculates proceeds from the 2012 Race for the Cure, which will take place in San Francisco on Sunday, September 9 and has seen a sharp drop in registration. Both agencies serve women in the LBT communities, as well as others.
"Komen is the single largest funder to the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund," said Mike Smith, executive director of the BCEF, in an interview. "They really believe in the work we're doing around economic empowerment for low-income women. From the standpoint of community-based agencies that rely on Komen funding, this is devastating."
BCEF, which was granted $275,000 last year, or about 25 percent of its operating budget according to Smith, provides emergency financial assistance to approximately 500 low-income and uninsured women in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties while they undergo treatment for breast cancer.
"Most of the women we serve are in hourly wage jobs and often don't have health care through their employer," Smith said. "And usually during their treatment for breast cancer, they end up losing their jobs, because they miss so much work."
Lyon-Martin Health Services is another local group that provides a range of services to women, lesbians, and transgender people seeking a "safe and compassionate environment."
Dr. Dawn Harbatkin, executive director and medical director of Lyon-Martin, shares Smith's concerns and is well aware of the impact Komen has had on its bottom line.
"Komen has been a consistent funder of ours since 2007," said Harbatkin in a phone interview. "They fund a big chunk of the preventive care around breast cancer screening that we do for low-income and uninsured women and transgender people."
The announcement ignited a social media firestorm that thrust Komen and Planned Parenthood into the national spotlight on opposing sides. Defenders of Planned Parenthood, steadfast in their belief that Komen and its board had abandoned the organization, rallied, and as quickly as their message spread, Komen's brand was tarnished.
"It was a very bad mistake by our Dallas leadership," Maria Sousa, executive director of Komen's San Francisco Bay Area affiliate, said in a phone interview. "And unfortunately it's the local affiliates – who had nothing to do with it and, in fact, didn't agree with the policy – who are paying the price."
The affiliates believe that they should have a right to determine what the unmet needs are, Sousa said, and the local affiliates determine the best agencies to meet those needs. Incidentally, in its 25 years, Sousa added, the San Francisco affiliate never received a grant request from Planned Parenthood.
Immediately after the controversy broke in late January, the seven California affiliates, which, in addition to San Francisco, include the Central Valley, Inland Empire, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Sacramento Valley, and San Diego, sprung into action, initiating a dialogue with national to explain its opposition to the proposed policy.
Within days, the boards of directors of the California affiliates passed a resolution to officially and publicly oppose the policy. By the end of that week, the national board announced it had reversed its policy, saying Komen would "continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities."
Race for the money
The debacle put affiliates in the position to try and overcome the public relations nightmare that has impacted Race for the Cure registrations and that will, by extension, significantly alter the bottom lines of local groups in dire need of funding. It's a position for which BCEF and Lyon-Martin have had to prepare.
"If the current race comes in with half as much money, we're going to need to be scrambling to find ways to patch a very deep hole in next year's budget," BCEF's Smith said. "In the long run, people who pay the price for this decision by Komen national isn't Planned Parenthood or anybody else. It's low-income women."
Lyon-Martin, which almost had to shutter its doors in 2011, is constantly looking for new sources of funding, said Harbatkin, in the hopes it will be a surplus that will enable the agency to introduce new services rather just meeting the bottom line.
"As long as we are open we will serve these patients," said Harbatkin. "The real question is, without this kind of funding, will we be able to stay open, and that for us is the bigger question."
With the race just over a week away, the local affiliate and the Bay Area groups it supports are holding out for an influx of late registrations.
"I really do hope that people go and support the San Francisco local affiliate for Komen so that they can raise the money that they need to help us provide the care that we all think is so important," said Harbatkin.
For registration information, visit www.komensf.org.