CITY HALL — Several of the African-American women on the City Council Thursday called on the state to renew a grant for a critical Breast Health Program for low-income and uninsured women, even as the state said it was a lost cause.
Aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Carrie Austin (34th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Emma Mitts (37th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Lona Lane (18th) all called on the Illinois Department of Public Health to renew a grant that helped fund the city's counterpart agency to administer the program, which concentrates on the screening and treatment of women on the South and West sides.
According to Dr. Odie Payne III, vice president of the Chicago-based Public Health Organization, the mortality rate for African-American women with breast cancer is 62 percent higher than for white women, in large part due to late diagnosis. And, Payne said, 24 of the 25 city communities with the highest breast-cancer mortality rate are on the South Side.
The Chicago Department of Public Health's initiative saw almost 5,000 women a year receive breast exams, mammograms and referrals for treatment through the Breast Health Program, according to Payne.
Dowell said that, as a breast-cancer survivor herself, she could testify about the need for early diagnosis and treatment.
"I know the state would not want to discontinue services," said Austin, chairman of the Budget Committee. She said she had talked with Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the city's Department of Public Health, and he had said he was pursuing a renewal of the grant. She referred to the grant withdrawal as a "wrinkle" in the process.
The state, however, said it knows nothing of those efforts and that the current grant is a lost cause.
"The grants for Fiscal Year '14 have gone out, so that's not a possibility," said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the IDPH. "And they have not requested officially from the Illinois Department of Public Health to initiate the process" going forward.
In discontinuing the grant earlier this year, the IDPH cited the program for mismanagement, specifically the quality of care, the lack of referrals after the withdrawal of Mercy Hospital following city non-payment, and the failure to respond to state inquiries going back to an audit in September of 2011.
"The City of Chicago is committed to ensuring women receive quality mammography services and to fully funding the current mammography program," said city health department spokesman Brian Richardson, who also dismissed threats of the program being privatized.
"Since 2011, we have continued to maintain approximately $1.7 million in city funding for this vital service annually, which has been augmented with a smaller portion of state dollars — approximately $300,000 this past year," Richardson said, adding that the city would make up the shortfall.
The plea for renewed funding came in the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.