The Wellness Community and Gilda's Club have been discussing “a closer alignment of our two organizations up to and including a possible merger,” said Kim Thiboldeaux, President and CEO of the national Wellness Community.
The two organizations have the same mission of providing free support, education, and hope to people with cancer and their loved ones, and there is no overlap in their services areas.
If the merger takes place, the combined entity would become the largest patient support organization in the United States, with some 45 affiliates; 80 satellites; and more than 400 full-time, part-time, or contract mental health professionals.
Ms. Thiboldeaux said that the economy was only one of several factors influencing the merger talks, which had first taken place five years ago, but did not happen because of the timing of the deal.
Then after release of the Institute of Medicine's 2007 report on “Cancer Care for the Whole Patient: Meeting Psychosocial Health Needs,” both groups got back to the table to talk last summer.
“The IOM report, our shared histories with Gilda Radner having been a participant at the original Wellness Community in Santa Monica until her death in 1989, and to some degree the current economic environment have all contributed to our renewed interest in making this happen,” she said, adding that more would be known in the near future.
New Program & Publication to Help Cope with Cost Issues
Until that actually happens, she said, the Wellness Community is gearing up to launch a new program and publication, “Frankly Speaking about Coping with the Cost of Your Cancer Care,” to help cancer patients and their families deal with the increased stress and anxiety that compounds the difficulty of their coping with already overwhelming psychosocial issues.
The program will launch in the next few weeks and will be a formal expansion of what is already taking place in some of the 25 Wellness Community local affiliates around the country, she said.
“We will be providing free information with a book and online resources on our Web site [www.thewellnesscommunity.org], as well as through workshops at our affiliates, where lawyers and financial advisors will be volunteering to help inform patients about financial issues.”
The economic downturn has caused the Wellness Community to take a harder look at increasing efficiencies in its programs, such as support groups, educational workshops, nutrition and exercise programs, and stress-reduction classes, she said.
“It's not enough just to make blanket budget cuts of a fixed percentage. Those of us who are going to survive [this recession] are those who are looking for new ways to do business. In addition to our talks with Gilda's Club, we've been combining or merging some support groups, and holding some local programs on a more regional basis.”
But with difficult times, participation at centers has increased, with some apparent differences among affiliates.
Coming Fewer Times a Week
For example, in St. Louis, Missouri, participants seem to be more selective about which programs they attend, and in an effort to save gasoline have been coming to the center fewer times a week.
Also, the affiliate in Boston was forced to close because of a number of factors including economic ones, but a suburban satellite has been able to continue some of its patient services.
Ms. Thiboldeaux said the Wellness Community is taking measures similar to most other nonprofits by cutting costs, belt tightening, and going after the shrinking pot of philanthropic dollars.
Capital expenses have been curtailed, as has travel that is not supported through educational grants. “We've been feeling cutbacks from foundations, corporations, and individual supporters who continue to give support but in smaller amounts.”