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Sunday, Apr 20, 2014
Health & Fitness

Tampa cancer society reorganizing operations

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The local American Cancer Society is consolidating a Tampa-based call center and eliminating support for three health programs, all as part of a national reorganization that is expected to wrap up this year.

A prostate cancer survivor group called "Man to Man," financial support for a children's cancer survivor summer camp and local prosthetic resource rooms are being phased out as part of a three-year-long plan to streamline resources for the national advocacy group.

Also, a dozen employees will have to reapply for their jobs at the call center, where a hotline connects cancer patients, their families and others with resources, said Michael Reich, vice president for communications of ACS Florida division.

"It doesn't necessarily mean they won't be employed with us at the end of all this," he said of the changes, which were in part prompted by the economy.

The reorganization won't affect the Tampa Hope Lodge facility next to the Moffitt Cancer Center or the society's popular ride service, which got 555 Tampa area patients to 5,800 appointments last year. Local offices in Tampa, Pinellas Park and Lakeland, and in Sarasota and in Pasco counties, also remain open, Reich said.

"From our perspective, it's pretty exciting," Reich said. "It's about narrowing our focus to serve the most people and save the most lives and make the biggest impact."

The American Cancer Society in 2011 reported $954 million in revenue, a reduction from more than $1 billion in 2007 and 2008. It remains one of the country's largest health charities, however, and its fundraising is on par with groups such as the American Red Cross.

A 2012 letter from Phil Evans, the society's national president, and Cynthia LeBlanc, board chairwoman, acknowledged significant changes were needed for an organization that spent $148.5 million on research in 2011, including work at Moffitt, the University of South Florida and St. Joseph's Hospital.

About 72 percent of all cancer society expenses in 2011 was spent on research and programs; 28 percent went to support services such as administration and fundraising logistics, annual reports show.

"We're transforming our operating model, which, although it has evolved over time, has not fundamentally changed since the 1950s," they wrote. "And we're looking from every angle at how we do business to ensure we are having the greatest impact possible on this disease."

Those changes included folding 12 regional divisions, including the Florida state office, into the national organization structure. Though the state office, which is located in Tampa, remains, the state's financial reporting and operations will now be centralized, Reich said.

The state operations continue to employ 355 people, including more than 70 in Tampa and southwest Florida, Reich said. Some employees have had their job assignments redefined as part of the reorganization; however, the heart of the operations continue to be sustained by a vast cadre of volunteers, he said.

Reich said it was difficult to decide which programs should be phased out in the Tampa area, but all are services being provided elsewhere by other organizations. Prostate cancer survivor support groups are available at several local hospitals, as are programs that provide prosthetics for breast cancer patients.

The decision to stop financial support for the Reaching Out to Cancer Kids, or "ROCK," at Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis was difficult. But ROCK has other supporters who will continue to sustain the residential camp for children with serious medical conditions, Reich said.

"It's a great service, but are we the organization to do this? No," he said.

Major fundraisers, such as Relay for Life walking events, will continue to be critical to supporting the existing programs in Tampa and across the country. About 60 percent of all cancer society revenue comes from fundraising events.

Centralizing the cancer society does not change the group's policy of sharing money raised locally with chapters nationwide, Reich said. Though money raised locally goes to the national office, it's what helps support education, prevention, treatment programs and research here, he said.

"Money raised in Florida will continue to be used for both local and national purposes," he said. "We have never been a charity where every dollar raised stays in the community. For us, the issue is whether the dollars raised make a difference in the community."

mshedden@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7365

Twitter: @MaryShedden

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