BRF marks 25th Anniversary with Grant from Bristol Myers Squibb
2022 marks the 25th anniversary of Breathing Room Foundation (BRF), founded to provide care and support to local families affected by cancer. From providing recipients with comfort bags to offering financial assistance for mortgage payments and bills, BRF offers individuals and their families a little space, or ‘breathing room,’ as they deal with cancer and all that comes with it. Serving families in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties, BRF offers immediate support through their referral process.
As BRF has grown, the support of individuals, corporations, and foundations has grown as well. Bristol Myers Squibb recently announced a grant to BRF of $300,000 to grow the transportation program, known at BRF as “Breaking Barriers,” which provides rides to treatment for cancer patients. This new funding is part of the Bristol Myers Squibb global “Diversity and Inclusion and Health Equity Commitments”, a $150 million investment over five years to address health disparities, increase clinical trial diversity, expand supplier diversity, increase workforce representation, and enhance employee giving in support of social justice organizations. To date, Bristol Myers Squibb’s total support in addressing health disparities as part of their 2020 Commitments is just over $39 million.
“We have seen a critical need arise for transportation support, and it is growing exponentially every year,” shared Mary Ellen Fitzgerald, BRF Executive Director. “Our statistics have shown that lack of transportation disproportionately impacts African American cancer patients. The lack of reliable and/or affordable transportation options often results in missed appointments or a patient foregoing treatment, directly impacting their chance of survival.”
This barrier to care is being addressed directly by the grant from Bristol Meyers Squibb, giving BRF the opportunity to increase their transportation program. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, BRF offered 128 rides to recipients in 2019. That increased to 2,641 in 2020, and more than doubled to 5,603 in 2021. As of March 15, 2022, nearly 600 rides have been provided. In 2021, more than half of those rides were offered to African American recipients, directly addressing Bristol Meyers Squibb’s goal of impacting Diversity, Inclusion, and Health Equity.
“Reliable transportation is consistently one of the biggest barriers to care for low-income cancer patients,” said Fitzgerald. “The goal of Breathing Room Foundation has always been to support those fighting cancer. In offering transportation services in this way, we are able to take one thing off of their plate – a critical, life-saving thing – that allows them to focus on other aspects of their care. This generous grant from Bristol Myers Squibb is literally life-altering. It not only allows Breathing Room Foundation to provide more rides through the program being funded, but also allows us to use resources to focus on making the program as efficient and effective as possible, strengthening partnerships to promote systematic changes by bringing awareness to the urgency of this issue and the impact that it makes.”
With a portion of this grant, BRF has added an internal staff member who will focus on coordinating this program, including an evaluation process focused on surveying recipients of support and hospital social workers. Through this evaluation process BRF hopes to find solutions that are sustainable and impactful, so that lack of transportation is no longer an issued faced by cancer patients in the Philadelphia area.
Trish Tysiak R.N., B.S.N., O.C.N., the Breaking Barriers Program Coordinator, has worked as an oncology nurse, a patient advocate, and has been a volunteer with BRF for several years. “Transportation is such a large barrier to care for many patients, and very few organizations are working to change that,” Teziak said. “Breathing Room Foundation is tackling this huge obstacle and offering individuals and families the support they need, when and where they need it. This level of support is so critical, and so heart-breaking for our families when they can’t make it to treatment. I’m grateful for the grant from Bristol-Meyers Squibb and the opportunity to assist our recipients through the Breaking Barriers program.”
As Breathing Room Foundation celebrates the 25th anniversary of its founding, Fitzgerald reflects on the increasing needs the community faces every day. “We are so grateful to be able to serve our recipients, and to make a difference in their lives,” she said. “When donors like Bristol Meyers Squibb make a gift to Breathing Room Foundation, they are directly impacting a member of their community with a ride to treatment, payment of a bill, or essential items like groceries. This neighbors-helping-neighbors attitude will never go away, even as Breathing Room Foundation continues to grow. As we look to the next 25 years, we will continue to work with gratitude for all of those who support our friends, neighbors, and family members who face cancer every day.”
For additional information about BRF, or to schedule an interview, contact Mary Ellen Fitzgerald.