Time off given for cancer checks

City allows its workers four hours per year to go for screenings

April 29, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

Beginning in mid-May, all 13,950 permanent full-time and part-time city employees will get up to four hours a year for cancer screening appointments, city officials announced yesterday.

Time taken off for the cancer screenings will not be counted toward an employee's sick, personal or vacation time. If used by all eligible employees, the screenings will cost the city an estimated $2 million a year in lost time.

Cancer accounts for 24 percent of Maryland deaths, and it's the second-leading cause of death after heart disease.

"Today we are taking another step that we hope will save lives," said Mayor Martin O'Malley at a news conference that included city Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, hospital officials and labor leaders.

City officials said the extra time off is to urge employees to take the precautionary tests needed for early detection and treatment. "It is their `don't get sick' leave time," O'Malley said, "so that they can get the check-ups that they need."

In 2003, 97 city employees or their dependents died from cancer.

Beilenson called the four hours a "tremendous boon to city employees" that addresses the crucial issue of providing screening opportunities in a city that has the state's highest overall cancer mortality rate.

The program is modeled after one in Boston, Beilenson said.

In 1997, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino started what is believed to be the first program to offer employees such a perk. In a telephone interview, Kristin Golden, a spokeswoman for the Boston Public Health Commission, said the program has been well-received, though only about 1,000 employees out of about 20,000 who are eligible take advantage of it.

American Cancer Society officials hailed the news yesterday, saying they did not know of many similar programs.

"We know this will increase awareness and increase compliance with the American Cancer Society's cancer screening guidelines," said Dawn Ward, communications and marketing director for Maryland.

Yesterday's news follows last week's announcement that city residents will be eligible for lower prices on prescriptions under a discount card program.

Mitch Klein, lead organizer of the Baltimore chapter of the community group ACORN, complimented O'Malley's initiative. "In this city we have a lot of public health issues, and anything we can do is important," he said.

"Of course, you have to look at it in terms of the political campaign," he said, alluding to O'Malley's anticipated run for governor in 2006. "But one of the great things about political campaigns is sometimes politicians start to do all the right things right before them."

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