By Kim Polacek, APR, CPRC - May 12, 2021
Members of Congress propose establishing a new cancer screening program to honor U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who died in early April after a distinguished career as a civil rights activist and Florida’s longest-serving congressional member. The initiative could help those in underserved communities have better access to cancer screening and treatment.
“Congressman Hastings was a brilliant, fearless, giant-hearted advocate and a treasured friend and mentor,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who led more than a dozen members of the House of Representatives in submitting an appropriations request for the Alcee Hastings Program for Advanced Cancer Screening in Under-Served Communities. “Alcee always championed the least among us, and he knew what it meant to overcome. This initiative is a fitting tribute to him.”
The request calls for the establishment of a federal program to help address cancer disparities by directing much-needed funding that would allow National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers throughout the country to expand cancer prevention and screening efforts in medically underserved communities.
“One way this can be accomplished is through collaborations between NCI-designated cancer centers, like Moffitt Cancer Center, and Federally Qualified Health Centers,” said Dr. Susan Vadaparampil, associate center director, Community Outreach, Engagement and Equity. “With the funding this program would authorize, we can dispatch more community health educators, outreach workers and providers to promote cancer screening among vulnerable populations in our area, and hopefully eliminate barriers to cancer screening and follow-up care.”
Congressional members are directing $50 million in funding for the program. They believe now is the perfect time for such an initiative. Recent studies have shown that 35% of American adults skipped a cancer screening due to the coronavirus pandemic. Early estimates are that 22 million cancer screenings were missed March through June 2020. Those figures, along with an increasing number of people who have lost or have no health insurance, will contribute to more late-stage cancer diagnoses, which often have worse outcomes.
“Alcee was a friend to me and a great supporter of our vision to build a world class cancer center for the people of Florida,” said H. Lee Moffitt, former Florida speaker of the House. “He always wanted to make sure that everyone had access to the very best care.”
"He always wanted to make sure that everyone had access to the very best care."- H. Lee Moffitt
Hastings, a Florida native born in Altamonte Springs, was a civil rights lawyer in the 1960s and ’70s who went on to become the state’s first Black federal judge in 1979. In 1992, he was elected to Congress and went on to win reelection 14 times. He was known as an advocate for minorities, immigrants, the elderly and the LGBTQ+ community, and he championed affordable day care, universal health care, and family and medical leave, as well as Everglades preservation.