News alert: Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge merges with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center

    Cancer Services of Greater Baton Rouge is merging with Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, effective immediately, in a deal the nonprofit’s board of directors approved on Thursday.

    Under the terms of the merger, Cancer Services will be endowed through the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center Foundation and retain its staff at its current location on Lobdell Avenue.

    Connie Caldwell, who became acting president and CEO after Jill Roshto left the agency in September, will continue in that role during the transition period. Additional leadership details will be worked out.

    Those involved in the deal say the move was motivated by a desire to provide more efficient services as well as to better leverage donor dollars.

    Merger discussions between the two organizations have been ongoing for some time, says Cancer Services board president Anthony O’Connor. Jill Roshto, the former president and CEO who left last year to become CEO of the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation, traveled the country studying funding models of other cancer services organizations in order to develop a plan to grow the Baton Rouge agency and make it sustainable in the long term.

    O’Connor stresses Cancer Services was not in financial trouble—the organization has about $4 million in reserves and can comfortably operate at least through the next decade. But, he acknowledges, it has experienced a drastic drop in funding from the United Way.

    Just 10 to 15 years ago Cancer Services received about $800,000 in funding for direct assistance for clients from the United Way. Last year, he says that figure dropped to roughly $150,000, of which approximately $80,000 was direct write-ins from United Way donors. A roughly $225,000 donation from CB&I helped make up the funding gap, he says.

    By the end of Roshto’s tenure at the organization, the board considered two options to move the organization into the future: Find a new director or merge with Mary Bird Perkins. The board on Thursday opted to do the latter.

    “We said we have an opportunity,” O’Connor says. “When Jill was here, we had been searching for the right direction for the future of the organization and how to impact our clients better and really grow the organization from what it has been to what it can be.”

    Under the agreement, Cancer Services will continue offering programs and services free of charge to patients and their families, regardless of where they seek medical treatment in the region, says O’Connor.

    Cancer Services’ office will eventually grow to be a support center for Mary Bird Perkins, and, he adds, there will be no interruption to services during the transition.

    “This was not taken lightly, and we are focused on how we can create better services for those suffering with cancer in the region,” O’Connor says. “We believe this is the most effective use of donor dollars and the best way to streamline services.”

    Renea Duffin, Mary Bird Perkins vice president of cancer support and outreach, adds the merger will enable both entities to combine resources, streamline support services, allow for the better utilization of donor dollars and preserves Cancer Services’ mission. Mary Bird Perkins also will gain new territory in the region, near Houma and the North Shore.

    “We will be able to serve more individuals through that network,” she says, adding the organizations have similar missions and collaborated for years.

    Cancer Services currently serves about 4,000 people and Mary Bird Perkins provides services to more than 3,500 new patients annually, according to a news release.

    The Cancer Services name, says O’Connor, will survive in perpetuity.  

    —Alexandria Burris