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Florida State Senator Ted Deutch Helps Sylvester Make Major Strides in State Funding

6/11/2009

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami has a powerful new ally in the fight against cancer.  The work of State Senator Ted Deutch (D-Boca Raton) will help Sylvester pull in millions of dollars more through state-funded competitive cancer research grants for years to come.

Senator Deutch visited the Miller School campus to attend the Sylvester Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday, June 10, during which he was recognized for his commitment to fighting cancer.  Calling him a “hero in the community,” W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., director of Sylvester, presented Senator Deutch with a glass inscription honoring him for his leadership and advocacy as a “true legislative champion.”

During this year’s legislative session, Senator Deutch sponsored legislation calling for an additional $1-per-pack surcharge on all cigarettes. The measure, titled “Protecting Florida’s Health Act,” passed the Senate unanimously, but the House and the Governor were a much tougher sell.  Over several nerve-wracking weeks, Senator Deutch worked tirelessly to get the needed votes in Tallahassee, even taking another bold step.   The South Florida legislator worked to have the money raised from the tobacco tax allocated to cancer research.  It seemed a logical step --  tobacco-related illnesses cost the state’s Medicaid system $1.3 billion, while only $430 million is collected from tobacco users.

Following a visit to Sylvester last fall, the Boca Raton lawmaker said he had a chance to witness the contribution the cancer center makes to the South Florida area, including his constituents, many of whom are treated at Sylvester’s Deerfield Beach facility.  Deutch describes Sylvester as an “institution that deserves to be widely recognized and praised for the work being done here.”

In April, as the legislative debate heated up, Senator Deutch took the lead at a news conference in Tallahassee aimed at highlighting the importance of passing the tobacco surcharge for cancer research.  Dr. Goodwin led the charge for Sylvester at that event, making an impassioned argument for the lives that could be saved with the allocation.  Perhaps the most compelling statement came from a Sylvester patient, Karen DeGray, who travelled to the state capital to tell her personal story of how research conducted at the Miller School saved her life.  Sylvester was the only cancer facility in the state to have such a strong presence at this forum.

The relentless dedication of Senator Deutch prevailed and the $1 increase in Florida’s tobacco tax passed the House in the waning hours of the legislative session, with Governor Charlie Crist signing the measure soon after weeks of wrangling.  As part of the package, $50 million of the tobacco funds will go toward cancer research at the William G. “Bill” Bankhead Jr. and David Coley Cancer Research Program and the James and Esther King Program.  Traditionally, those programs have received roughly a combined $19 million in funding each year, with Sylvester getting about one-third of that amount.  Because of Senator Deutch’s tireless efforts in Tallahassee, more than doubling the cancer research dollars to those programs is expected to send more funding toward Sylvester’s breakthrough research and clinical trials.

While the senator was praised for being a hero in the fight against cancer, he called the doctors on the front lines the true heroes.  Deutch told Sylvester’s Board of Governors, “I appreciate you letting me into the family to fight this together.”

Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., senior vice president for medical affairs and dean, was also on hand to personally thank the senator.  “Passing this measure showed the nation that Florida is serious in the fight against cancer,” Dr. Goldschmidt said.  “We recognize your leadership in making this happen.”  The Dean also presented Deutch a copy of a letter signed by the deans from every medical school in the state of Florida.  The letter was sent to Governor Crist, praising and supporting Senator Deutch in his efforts to pass the tobacco bill.

The measure is now Florida law but the fight is clearly not over for Sylvester scientists and physicians, or Senator Deutch.  He plans to revisit the allocation of the tobacco surcharge next year, with hopes of funneling more money toward building a dedicated cancer research institute at Sylvester.  He explains that it will mean more research and eventually cures, but also an economic boost to the region with high-paying jobs.  “I want my constituents to know there is a world-class cancer facility here in South Florida, just a short drive away.”