Komen Philadelphia Closes Office As National Regroups

Crowds cheer at a Komen Philadelphia parade in 2019.
Photo by Dan Z. Johnson

After 30 years of operation, Susan G. Komen Philadelphia closed its offices for good on Oct. 30.

The national breast cancer awareness and research nonprofit Susan G. Komen shut its regional affiliates, including Komen Philadelphia, as the organization transitions to a centralized model with a completely remote workforce. The organization announced plans to reorganize in April.

“To be clear: Susan G. Komen is not going anywhere. We are not leaving communities. We are transitioning from a federated business model of independent affiliates to a single, united entity in order to increase our operational efficiency and impact,” said Paula Schneider, president and CEO of Komen, in a statement.

Komen Public Relations Director Sean Tuffnell said the organization’s evolution was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, and that the new structure will help ensure Komen’s long-term survival.

“The affiliate model itself is very fragile insomuch as local markets are heavily reliant on race walks. And when you are in a situation where you can’t meet on a Saturday morning with 30,000 of your closest friends, it is tough to sustain those local markets,” he said.

Elaine Grobman, CEO of Komen Philadelphia, said she was proud of the work her organization has done for the past 30 years.

“We contributed $63.7 million in community grants, and that means grants to hospitals to see underserved patients or patients without insurance for mammograms, diagnostic and treatment and support. We’ve given $28 million of breast cancer research to national, which they’ve distributed. And we were able to give 184,550 free mammograms to the community,” she said.

Ari Brooks, director of the Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, has received 18 grants from Komen Philadelphia in the past 19 years and knows firsthand how they have impacted the community.

His hospital runs the Penn Medicine Breast Health Initiative, which provides breast cancer screenings to uninsured women. Many of the patients the program serves are undocumented or otherwise ineligible for programs provided with funding from the state of Pennsylvania and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Komen Philadelphia provided the funds to get the project off the ground. It has secured funding for the program through April 2021, but beyond that point it will have to rely on other forms of philanthropy as well as funds provided by the national organization.

Brooks, who is Jewish, said Komen Philadelphia would be sorely missed.

“I can’t stress enough how indebted I am and our screening program is to Komen [Philadelphia] for getting us started,” he said.

Komen Philadelphia worked with Jewish organizations, including Hillels at Temple University, University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and Franklin and Marshall College, to offer educational programs about breast cancer screenings and family history to thousands of Jewish students.
Ashkenazi Jewish women have an increased risk of breast cancer due to the high prevalence of BRCA, or breast cancer gene, in Jewish populations of Eastern European descent.
The regional affiliate also conducted outreach events for the Asian American, African American and Hispanic communities, with information translated into a variety of languages for immigrants who did not speak English.

This year, Komen Philadelphia’s More Than Pink Walk fundraiser had to transition to a virtual format due to the pandemic. Grobman said it still raised $500,000.

Tuffnell emphasized that Komen will still offer support in the Philadelphia area. The Komen Treatment Assistance Program, which provides financial aid to those struggling to pay copays, transportation and child care costs, will continue.

“We find in particular during this global pandemic where people are losing their jobs, losing their insurance, that the Treatment Assistance Program is incredibly important and valuable, and so we’re doubling down on what those needs are,” Tuffnell said.

He said Komen is launching a national patient navigation program to ensure patients have access to health care professionals who can help them navigate their screening and treatment options.

The closing of the Philadelphia affiliate marks the end of Grobman’s time with Komen, but she intends to continue her activism.

“When the announcement went out, I received over 100 emails from people who told me, ‘You came to my house with a basket of food,’ ‘you held my mother’s hand and she’s recovered,’ ‘you gave us the passion and the understanding and the courage to move forward.’ And there are hundreds of emails like that. So I am feeling very proud that my staff and I have touched so many lives,” she said.


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