SALT LAKE CITY — Cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers and advocates turned out Friday to convince lawmakers of various cancer-related issues, including asking for a $1.6 million appropriation from the state.
The money, they hope, will go toward building Utah's Hope Lodge to house cancer patients and caregivers who travel to the city for treatment.
"Cancer treatment and the manufacturing of drugs and delivery systems are all part of the prestige and national presence we have in this arena," said Zeke Dumke, vice chairman of the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge Campaign Board. He said the projected 42-room facility, to be built on land donated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will serve up to 800 patients and caregivers each year.
"I want to stress how essential and vital it is that people throughout our state have the opportunity and accessibility to cancer care that is available here," campaign board chairwoman Katie Eccles told members of the Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday.
"We're ready to break ground this fall if we can raise the money," she said.
The church gifted its 2.2-acre property at the northwest corner of 100 South and 400 East to the American Cancer Society in September 2011. The old 13th Ward meetinghouse currently on the site has been vacant for several years and is awaiting demolition for the new project. The land is valued at about $4.2 million.
Architectural renderings for the latest Hope Lodge were presented to the public in September, when the board officially launched its fundraising campaign.
The American Cancer Society has secured $11 million in private donations toward the estimated $18 million facility. Advocates are asking the state Legislature for $1.6 million this year.
While funds may be tight this year, Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, said the request was commendable.
"What we can do to help these people get through this period of emergency is a very good thing," Pitcher said. The committee, he added, has received pitches from "many worthy projects."
The Hope Lodge, much like 31 similar facilities in other states, will house cancer patients free of charge while they receive treatment in Salt Lake City. Operating costs for the live-in facilities are covered by the organization.
The nearest available housing for patients is a six-room facility attached the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. The next closest full-fledged Hope Lodge is located in Lubbock, Texas. Salt Lake City's Hope Lodge will be the only one of its size and kind in the Intermountain West, according to Eccles.
Other issues advocates discussed with lawmakers Friday included a request for an insurance mandate to cover emerging oral chemotherapy drugs (SB189), and an emphasis of the importance of Medicaid expansion to "expand and increase access" to those who need care, said American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network volunteer Brook Osterland. She said past government policies have helped people receive early cancer screenings and obtain access to supportive programs.
The organization estimates that 10,000 Utahns will be diagnosed with various cancers this year, including 2,000 who will pass away from the disease in 2013.
"It's an issue that impacts every person in Utah," Osterland said.