Widespread partnership bringing colorectal cancer screenings to west Alabama in April

Published 11:44 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

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Access to essential colorectal cancer screening is expanding for residents living in west Alabama through a collaboration between Whitfield Regional Hospital (a member of the UAB Health Systems Affiliates), UAB Medicine and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

These medical and outreach teams are partnering to provide 60 free colonoscopies for people living in Marengo, Sumter, Choctaw, Greene and Hale counties.

On March 16 and 17, Whitfield Hospital will host a colorectal cancer awareness event in an effort to sign up individuals for colorectal cancer screenings. These screenings will be held at Whitfield Regional Hospital in Demopolis from April 11- 15.

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Fifteen county coordinators and CHAs with the Office of Community Outreach & Engagement are working to promote the service and encourage widespread participation within the five-county area.

“Our office is excited to be among the partners for this worthwhile activity”, said Program Director Claudia Hardy. “Our coordinators in these west Alabama counties are key to spreading the word about this important service to friends, family and neighbors. Whitfield is making it available to individuals regardless of their ability to pay.”

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. African Americans are disproportionately impacted by colorectal cancer at the highest rate of any racial group in the country. However, colorectal cancer is both preventable and treatable.

Colonoscopy screening can help prevent colorectal cancer by detecting and allowing for removal of precancerous growths.

“Our region has some of the highest rates of COPD, congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes and rates of cancer in our country,” explained Whitfield Regional Hospital Chief Executive Officer Douglas Brewer. “This, coupled with the fact that it is also one of the most medically underserved areas of our country, underscores the importance of programs such as the upcoming colonoscopy screening that we are planning in partnership with UAB.”

Gregory Kennedy, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery and co-medical director of the Cancer Service Line, said the relationship with Whitfield Regional Medical Center continues to grow. Quince Gibson, M.D., a gastrointestinal surgeon in Demopolis, is also a UAB faculty member.

“We hope that by serving the community in this fashion we will increase the awareness of colon and rectal cancer for patients in this county, as well as extend our reach throughout the Black Belt of Alabama,” Kennedy said. “We strongly believe that access to care is a major problem for patients in the Black Belt of Alabama. In an attempt to eliminate this particular source of disparity, we are committed to bringing providers to the patients and their communities.”

“By spending the month of March increasing awareness and promoting the screenings in April, we hope to enhance knowledge and eliminate the fear often associated with colorectal cancer

Screening,” he explained. “We hope our presence and commitment to the community also increases the level of trust the residents of Demopolis have in the surgeons of UAB. We hope that this increased trust will ultimately culminate in increasing rates of cancer screening in general.”

While UAB has taken services to several locations across the state, the activity at Whitfield will be the first large scale event designed to increase awareness of colorectal cancer.

“UAB Health System Cancer Community Network works with organizations in the community to help address the local gaps in care. Whitfield Regional Hospital and their team are great examples of how these partnerships can work together to help overcome the hurdles that may exist to gain access to quality cancer prevention, screening, treatment and supportive services,” said Director of Cancer Center Affiliates Terri Salter. “Identifying resources and partners in the community to help provide screening and treatment close to home helps get us closer to improving the health of the people in Marengo and the surrounding counties. Thank you to Whitfield Hospital, physicians and team members,” Salter said.

In Demopolis, Brewer said the hospital’s association with UAB brings long-term benefit to residents in the region. The colonoscopies represent a strong example,” he said. “UAB has been instrumental in helping us better provide care to our region through telehealth and direct hands-on care for many of these chronic care patients. This support has allowed us to begin providing programs and services that have never been offered in this region,” Brewer said. “For the first time residents of the Black Belt are able to access surgeons and specialists able to assist them in improving their lives and beginning to change the way future generations will live through healthier living.”