NEGAUNEE - The Superior Health Foundation - in coordination with six Upper Peninsula health departments - will launch the U.P.-wide Breast Health Fund in 2014, with the hopes of painting the entire peninsula pink.
Beginning Jan. 2, eligible breast cancer patients in the U.P. can apply for up to $1,000 in financial support through the program to help cover the cost of breast care-related bills, biopsies, procedures and ultrasounds.
"Today is really an exciting day for health departments all across the U.P., but most importantly, (for) women and men facing breast cancer," said Jim LaJoie, executive director of the Superior Health Foundation. "I think we all fully know the emotional and physical toll that breast cancer can have on those with the disease and their families."
The fund - which currently has approximately $28,000 available to patients "who have exhausted all other financial resources for breast health care," according to a Marquette County Health Department press release - will be available to patients 35-64 years of age whose income falls within the poverty guidelines and who are under- or uninsured. An eight-person review committee, comprised of the health department coordinators from the six districts, a member of the Superior Health Foundation Community Needs and Grants Committee and LaJoie will determine to whom to award the money. To ensure that the resources are distributed across the U.P., each district will be given $2,500. The remaining $13,000, LaJoie said, will be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Much of the money for the fund was raised during "31 Days of Pink," a month-long event in October created in a partnership between Superior Health and the Marquette Area Public Schools.
"We raised in excess of $18,000, and with other breast health funds in our account, we have more than $28,000 in funding to help Upper Peninsula patients, those who have exhausted all other financial resources for breast health care," LaJoie said.
Schools raised money from the sale of merchandise, including the pink jerseys worn by some area high school football teams, and pink footballs. In addition, LaJoie said that Superior Health also reached out to sponsors for $500 donations.
To fund the program going forward, LaJoie said that the Superior Health Foundation will reach out to school districts across the U.P. to start a "Paint the Peninsula Pink" campaign, in hopes of significantly expanding the money raised.
"It's always fun to take the hard work of folks and help other folks in the true Yooper spirit," said Sheri Davie, member of the Superior Health Foundation Board of Directors and the chair of its Community Needs and Grants Committee. "We are very grateful for all of those who have pulled together to make this first event such a tremendous success, and we are looking forward to painting the entire peninsula pink."
Davie said that health deparment and Superior Health members are aware that the initial amount raised is not going to be "enough money to meet all of the need, but we're off to a great start," she said.
LaJoie said that breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, with 1.6 million new cases occurring worldwide in 2013. In 2013, he said, there were 230,000 new cases of breast cancer in the U.S. alone.
"If we're truly honest with ourselves, most, if not all of us, have been touched by breast cancer at some point in our lives," he said.
In addition to the Marquette County Health Department, the Luce-Mackinac-Alger-Schoolcraft District Health Department, the Western Upper Peninsula District Health Department (serving Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties), Dickinson-Iron District Health Department (serving Dickinson and Iron counties), Public Health Delta and Menominee Counties and the Chippewa County Health Department are all participating.
Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.