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Friday, September 14, 2012

Does the American Cancer Society "Road to Recovery" Program Redline Poor Communities? No, but ...

Cancer patient seeks ride. Is this a job for Bond, James Bond?
Or will the American Cancer Society "Road to Recovery" program help? 

Does the American Cancer Society's "Road to Recovery" program redline cancer patients who live in poor and minority communities?

Redlining is the denial of services to people who live in poor and minority areas.

The American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program's webpage says this about the program:

"Every day thousands of cancer patients need a ride to treatment, but some may not have a way to get there. The American Cancer Society Road to Recovery program provides transportation to and from treatment for people who have cancer who do not have a ride or are unable to drive themselves. Volunteer drivers donate their time and the use of their cars so that patients can receive the life-saving treatments they need."

***

I was recently diagnosed with cancer. I do not have family. I am low income and I do not own a car. In any case, I'd need to travel after surgery and other medical procedures that might make it challenging for me to drive myself.

I asked for rides on facebook.

"Don't worry!" A caring facebook friend, herself a cancer survivor, promised me. "The American Cancer Society has a Road to Recovery program that will provide you with rides!"

Several other facebook friends, themselves cancer survivors or in touch with cancer survivors or social workers, all promised me that the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery program would help.

I contacted the American Cancer Society a month ago. I was asked where I live. I told them. I was immediately informed that I could not get rides with the American Cancer Society Road to Recovery program.

I was rather shocked. I live in a heavily populated region of a densely populated state. If the ACS Road to Recovery did not provide rides here, where would they provide rides???

I continued to contact the American Cancer Society, asking to speak to other personnel. I ended up speaking to a very nice man named Erik. He researched the question from all angles. After a month of this back-and-forth, after a month of my begging and pleading and tearing my hair out – never mind chemo – Erik informed me this afternoon that there was no way I could get any ride with the American Cancer Society Road to Recovery program, even if I took a bus to a nearby town and was picked up there, rather than in my low-income neighborhood.

I feel so sad. I'm already fighting so many battles on so many fronts. To be turned down by this world famous humanitarian organization. It's hard. It's just another negative, negating message I need to overcome.

And I just don't know what to make of this. Again, I live in a heavily populated region of a densely populated state: New Jersey.

I know this much – I live in an almost all minority city. Spanish, not English, is the first language of many streets in this city. Most people are Hispanic, or Black, or Muslim, from the Middle East. And this is a high crime area. Two men were shot to death right in front of my apartment building just one year ago.

I don't know if my living in a majority minority city has played any role in my being excluded from the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery Program.

I do know that the cancer diagnosis was a crushing blow.

I do know that my life is already challenging enough. I live in a poor region because I'm struggling with big challenges.

As people who have read "Save Send Delete" know, I've already wrestled with a catastrophic illness, one that ruined me financially and pushed me out of the fulltime job market. I'm struggling to get back in. I spent this entire morning looking at job listings and applying for jobs. I have a PhD. I'm a published writer. I don't spend my free time doing drugs and cheating on welfare. I teach part-time – oh, what I would not give for a full-time job!

I don't carry a switchblade and I don't have poor people cooties. I just can't afford a car. And I need a ride to cancer treatment.

My neighbors are similar to me. Yes, there are criminals in this city. But there are also plenty of young people, as innocent and bright-eyed as young people in wealthy suburbs, plenty of women who go off in their nurse's aide uniforms at six every morning, on foot, in summer's heat and over winter snow and ice, to work the seven-to-three shift, plenty of physically handicapped people who will never scale the corporate ladder, but who are otherwise as human as anyone.

Erik repeatedly assured me that the American Cancer Society does not redline people in poor and minority communities. I believe him.

But I'd like to suggest to Erik, and to the American Cancer Society, through this blog, a couple of things.

First, given that the American Cancer Society implies that it has this aspect of cancer covered, many well-meaning people, from my facebook friends to social workers at the hospital, felt that they could refer me to the American Cancer Society, and that that would solve everything.

I think the American Cancer Society is honor-bound to make more clear in its communications that it *doesn't* have this aspect of cancer covered. That people fall through the cracks, and that more needs to be done to provide rides to cancer patients.

Second, I strongly urge the American Cancer Society to take a look at the ride needs of people in low income communities. It seems a given that poor folk would be the ones most in need of rides.

If you'd like to contact the American Cancer Society on this matter, the contact information is below:

1-800-227-2345

You can also email the American Cancer Society at this webpage:

http://www.cancer.org/Aboutus/HowWeHelpYou/app/contact-us.aspx

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for explaining Redlining. And, yes, the American Cancer Society does need to make it clear that it has No-go areas, otherwise people are left in limbo - everyone assuming that they have help that doesn't exist. However, is it possible to say that you redline, legally speaking?

    We do seem to live in the Newspeak world of "1984".

    By the way, could your local congregation help you with lifts to hospital?

    And I hope its all going as well as it can, and that your mind and body are beginning to recover from the shock.

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    1. Sue, if you want to write, here is an address:

      erik.perez at cancer period org

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  2. I will definitely send an e-mail to the ACS. I also posted a link to your blog on the Discussion of Women's Poetry listserv since several members had indicated that ACS was a transport resource for people in your financial circumstances. I thought they would be interested in the followup story! Christina Pacosz

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  3. It seems to me that your neighborhood lacks volunteer drivers. The quote you posted directly from their website says "Volunteer drivers donate their time and the use of their cars"

    As a sociology major, it is less likely for members of a poor community to have extra time on their hands or a reliable means of transportation for themselves.

    I can't imagine all the struggles and frustration you are facing, but it doesn't seem to me that ACS is denying services to people who live in poor and minority areas. It seems the service isn't available because members of your community are not willing or able to volunteer.

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    1. Anonymous -- what you say is correct, but you aren't addressing the main points of the blog post.

      Here are the main points of the blog post:

      Regardless of any disclaimers posted on the ACS website, some social service personnel who have dedicated their lives to cancer care assume that the ACS supplies rides. Period.

      That being the case, social service personnel tell cancer patients, "Get a ride from the ACS" and leave it at that. They assume that the problem is solved, and they have no backup solutions.

      The post requests that the ACS make sure that social service personnel know this: The ACS DOESN'T provide rides to everyone; in some cases the local social service personnel will have to develop other resources.

      I can see why the ACS would choose not to do this -- it might hurt their cachet, and, by extension, their fundraising.

      The reason for doing so is also clear -- doing so would help needy cancer patients. That, rather than ACS Public Relations, should be their priority.

      The second point is that the ACS could focus on this if it chose to. It could attempt to devote time and energy to rides for poor and minority communities, where, it seems obvious, rides would be most needed, because people in poor communities are less likely to own cars.

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  4. It seems I did miss the point of the blog, sorry. It mentioned once at the end, that in addition to fb friends there were social workers that believe ACS could take care of rides for him. I was replying in reference to the proposed belief that ACS is redlining people.
    This is what I know, my mom and I were living in a very poor and crime ridden area of Detroit when she went through treatment. She was able to get rides from people in our area that volunteered through ACS. This was amazing as I was able to work more and did not have to take off every chemo day to drive her.
    I am now I volunteer driver and I believe ACS makes it very clear to people how their program is set up. The patients I pick up always seem well informed when they called ACS to request the ride that it is a volunteer program and rides are provided on a volunteer basis. I know this because they tell me the whole drive there how excited they were that a volunteer was found. ACS has it in the brochure used to educate the public on the program and on its website.
    I understand the point that ACS could do more to provide rides in poor communities, but the cost of anything other than a volunteer program would be impossible. To actually provide rides by staff they would need to supply cars, pay drivers and pay for the gas, all the things volunteer cover in the current program.
    If social workers say ACS can help with that with absolute certainty that sounds like a social worker trying to pass the buck. Something I have found happens way too often.

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    Replies
    1. Hi, thanks for your informative post.

      No, I don't think that ACS should pay drivers. I'm just saying that maybe they could publicize the need in low income communities. Maybe urge local institutions to urge their own volunteer populations to consider serving low income communities.

      I live in a slum but in a heavily and densely populated state and high income areas are close enough that I can walk to them. It's just a matter of a few miles ... maybe volunteers could be urged to consider covering that distance.

      I agree that the "passing the buck" phenomenon is all too common.

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