Salem health officials discuss starting cancer detection clinic

SALEM – City health district officials are gathering information on the costs associated with having a cancer detection clinic like what the Columbiana County General Health District offers.

“If it can be paid for by a levy and voters are interested in having that service provided, we could do something similar,” Mayor John Berlin said.

In his capacity as mayor, Berlin serves as chairman of the city health district board and reported during a recent health board meeting that he was questioned by a city resident about services.

The resident had received a letter from the county informing him that he was no longer eligible to take part in the county general health district’s psa screening clinic for prostate cancer as he had in the past.

Berlin said he would like to know if other city residents received similar letters and if so, how many. Anyone who received a letter should contact the city health department at 330-332-1618 to let them know.

After the meeting, Berlin said he would like to know what happens at other districts for cancer detection and the costs associated with it.

The county general health district covers all areas of the county except for the cities of Salem and East Liverpool which have their own health departments.

The county health district’s cancer detection clinic first opened in August 1965, offering the first free cancer detection clinic in the state of Ohio using seed money from the Ohio Department of Health, according to county Health Commissioner Wes Vins. When funding began to drop, the general health district started to supplement the funds needed to operate and finally proposed a levy to cover the costs

A .2-mill, 10-year levy was first passed by voters living in the general health district in the early 1980s and has continued to be renewed. The levy was last renewed in 2010 and will expire and be up for renewal again in 2020. Property owners in the cities of Salem and East Liverpool don’t pay the property tax and don’t vote on it since they’re outside the county general health district.

Vins explained that for many years, the general health district was able to provide cancer clinic services to residents living in those cities and other areas outside the general health district with grant funding received from Susan G. Komen, which also helped cover follow-ups.

He said those funds were used to offset the costs of services for non-county health district residents and helped the county defray some of the overhead costs for the cancer detection clinics. They were able to do more with their levy funds as a result.

This year, Vins said the county health district was approved for a Susan G. Komen grant, but the grant was unfunded due to the organization not having enough revenue. He said the county health district normally received anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 per year from the grant.

“We’ve got a mission at hand and that’s to serve the residents of the Columbiana County General Health District,” he said.

The county general health district personnel and board members talked about the situation at length and in April, the county board approved a policy that only residents of the general health district can be served by the cancer clinics, which are paid for by residents of the general health district through their tax dollars from the levy. Residents outside of the general health district don’t pay for the levy.

Vins said they even had some people coming from Stark and Carroll counties for services.

“That Komen grant gave us a lot more regional aspect. Unfortunately, we just can’t do it anymore,” he said, adding he’s hopeful they can get the funding back someday.

He said they’re looking for other opportunities and hopes that residents outside the general health district still get services from their private physicians. The doctor who performs the pap tests and pelvic exams and also serves as medical director took a huge wage cut in her contract to try to help reduce costs.

Services offered through the cancer clinic include pap tests and pelvic exams, mammograms (at a reduced rate), clinical breast exams, skin cancer screening, prostate cancer screening and colorectal cancer screening. Anyone residing in the county general health district can use the clinic, regardless of income or insurance, with self-referral accepted.