Rural Health, Inc. Receives ACS CHANGE Grant

Dec 9, 2014

A community health center in southern Illinois will get help to screen more patients for colorectal cancer.

The CHANGE Grant from the Cancer Society provides $100,000 over two years to healthcare providers all over the nation. This is the second CHANGE Grant awarded in southern Illinois – Christopher Rural Health is already working with an award, and seeing results.

Caleb Nehring with the American Cancer Society office in Marion says Rural Health, Incorporated – which serves patients in Union and Johnson Counties – is a good fit, because it’s a federally qualified health center, and because it already has programs in place that match the goals of the CHANGE Grant.

"We want our donor dollars to go as far as possible, so we didn't want to just write a blank check and say 'OK, see you in two years.' We wanted this to be almost a jump-start or kick-start, if you will, for a program that will set up a protocol and a standard of care that will stay implemented after the dollars go away."

Nehring says while the screenings have been available for quite a while, having this money to help with advocacy and awareness means more patients will be able to take advantage of this kind of preventative care.

"It's really taking a laser focus approach on, from the time the patient walks in the door, they check in, in the patient room, to when they walk out, and making sure they get screened if they're at the right age."

Brooke Miller is a Physician’s Assistant at Rural Health. She says patient care will only get better as a result of this money.

"I think we do a very good job with healthcare for these patients, but anytime something like this comes along, you're able to really focus on it a little bit more with the funding."

Advocates for preventative care say making sure the message is getting to patients is critical – and Miller says the CHANGE Grant provides not just for advocacy, and it also lifts the burden of cost for some patients who truly need the testing, but can’t afford it.

"We all here have a heart for people who are underserved, and maybe don't have the resources to be able to do things like this. But this grant is going to enable people without insurance, or on the slide fee - without the dollars behind them, to have a screening done."

Nehring says the grants can – and do – save lives. More than 1,000 patients have already been screened in the Christopher Rural Health Grant. And he says that’s a big deal, because they provide screenings and access to care to people who might otherwise wait until it’s too late:

"There was an individual who got a screening, because of the grant. They had never been screened before for colon cancer. The kit came back positive, they got a diagnostic colonoscopy, and they were diagnosed with the early stages of colon cancer. They're fine now, they had a small surgery, and the patient was ecstatically thankful that she had this opportunity otherwise she may not have gotten screened and five years from now, we could be in a very different situation with her outcome."

And Nehring says he’s also proud that the ACS has chosen another southern Illinois provider for its CHANGE Grant program – he says this area has very specific needs in terms of access to care.

"This is the second grant like this that has come to southern Illinois. There are only four that have been given in the entire state, so half of that money has been right here in southern Illinois, and that is awesome."

Nehring and Miller say it’s the access to screening in a setting patients are already comfortable with – their primary care office – that will help increase the number of people screened and served. Miller says sometimes getting the care is just about seeing a familiar face.

"Whether it's a nurse that's bringing the patient back to the exam room, getting their vital signs, going through their medications, noticing that they're of age that needs a screen - or even a medical provider, in the exam, going through their medical history, knowing that they are overdue or haven't yet had a screening done."

And Miller echoes what many other providers and cancer treatment advocates have said for many years – early detection and treatment can be the key to survival.

"Gosh, I can't say enough about screening and prevention. If something is caught early, the chances are always better. There's no guarantee, but the chance that person has is better."

Nehring says access to care is a key part of beating Cancer -  and he’s happy the ACS can partner with agencies and groups to help get the care to those who need it.

"Everyone needs to have a family doctor. If you live in Anna, if you live in Christopher, if you live in St. Louis, Chicago, you need to have a doctor that you have a relationship with. There are many, many community health centers around the country. It is, in my opinion, very important to at least see them once a year - to talk about what age you are, what family history you have. And that provider is going to make recommendations based on all that information."

You can get more information about CHANGE Grants and other programs through the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org.