Specialist slams Cancer Society saying Daffodil Place excessive

Noted doctor says he has lost faith in society's provincial chapter

Terry Roberts editor@cbncompass.ca
Published on February 20, 2010
Dr. Pradip Ganguly, the chief of radiation oncology with Eastern Health, is a former president of the provincial division of the Canadian Cancer Society. He is shown here in his office at the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. Johns. Photo by Terry Roberts/The Telegram

A top cancer specialist is raising alarms about the actions of the Canadian Cancer Society, and says he has lost faith in the people that run the not-for-profit organization in this province.

Dr. Pradip Ganguly, chief of radiation oncology with Eastern Health, believes the society has strayed from its core values by undertaking a massive project like Daffodil Place in St. John's.

A top cancer specialist is raising alarms about the actions of the Canadian Cancer Society, and says he has lost faith in the people that run the not-for-profit organization in this province.

Dr. Pradip Ganguly, chief of radiation oncology with Eastern Health, believes the society has strayed from its core values by undertaking a massive project like Daffodil Place in St. John's.

He describes the new 24-room hostel, which opened last summer following an extensive and high-profile fundraising campaign that resulted in more than $7 million in pledges, as a financial burden. He says it is diverting much-needed money from more important causes and needs.

"We didn't need, as a society - based on our function and our ability - we do not need such a huge place," said Ganguly, who stressed he was speaking in his capacity as a former president of the cancer society and a patient advocate.

But officials with the cancer society say they are stunned by Ganguly's rebuke, and have offered assurances that the organization is on solid ground.

Dr. Maria Mathews, the volunteer president of the board of directors, acknowledged the society is facing some financial strains, but feels they are up to the challenge.

"We think we can do it. We never would have constructed Daffodil Place if we didn't think we could do it," she said.

She also denied the society is not fulfilling its mission.

"We continue to deliver in all of those areas and support research across Canada that he alleges we have abandoned," she said.

Looking for answers

Ganguly said he has been hearing some troubling feedback from patients and others associated with the society, and wants answers about the financial health of the society, and whether it is staying within its mandate.

He's so unsettled by what he's hearing that he is unwilling to engage in any dialogue with the society on a professional level until he can be assured that matters are being addressed.

He noted that discussions will start soon on a new cancer control strategy for the province, and he wonders if the society is stable enough to be part of the process.

"Unless they can answer some of these questions, I won't be comfortable to sit down with them," he said.

Ganguly's fiery criticism of the society is outlined in a letter in today's Telegram.

In an interview Friday, he said he's not trying to undermine the society, but feels he has to speak out for cancer patients.

"We are a very small organization, serving only half a million people. One has to know how big a place you need and what can you afford without compromising the core values of the cancer society. I'm afraid that might have happened," he said.

Ganguly started asking questions in December when the society announced it was closing for 10 days during the Christmas period. Ganguly said several people told him they were "kicked out" of Daffodil Place.

A public backlash forced the society to revise its plan, and the hostel was closed for just 3 1/2 days.

"I was very unhappy with the wordings and statements I was getting from patients and families," Ganguly said.

He began asking more questions, and became more disturbed with what he was hearing about a provincial lottery undertaken by the society last year.

He described the lottery as a "financial disaster."

He said it appears the society is more interested in building an "empire" than raising money for research and education.

He's also concerned that it's shifting away from its roots as a volunteer charity, and being run more like a business.

"My objective is not to destroy or in any way embarrass, but to see the board members address these issues so that everything is aboveboard and everybody can move on with a clean slate," he said.

Lottery failure

The lottery was done in partnership with the VOCM Cares Foundation and was the society's biggest fundraising venture. It offered a grand prize of $500,000, plus other prizes.

It failed in a big way, with both charities sharing a shortfall of more than $300,000, Mathews said.

She blamed competition from similar lotteries, and the uncertainty related to the global recession. It won't happen again, she said.

"In the future, we'll be doing things we know will pay off for us," she said, referring to the Relay for Life and Daffodil Days fundraisers.

Despite the losses, she said the society's operations were never in jeopardy.

"We have backing from the national level to make sure we can continue to offer services and manage Daffodil Place," she said.

Located on Ropewalk Lane, Daffodil Place provides reduced-rate accommodations for cancer patients and their caregivers who have to travel to St. John's for treatment.

Since it opened, occupancy has hovered around 90 per cent, and the average stay has been about one month.

It will cost the society an extra $400,000 annually to operate the facility, and its success depends largely on the generosity of donors. Mathews said the society has an excellent reputation and has received exceptional support.

She doesn't believe the society has overextended itself.

"The facility is warm and welcoming. It's not luxurious," she said.

"Just about everyone who has stayed here has said this has been such a gift to them."

Mathews conceded that the board is re-evaluating the operation, including the $25 per day fee.

"We want to make sure Daffodil Place is still affordable. But we also want to make sure that it's fair and we're covering the cost of running the operation."

She also acknowledged the society is changing its focus, and is exploring new and different ways to serve the needs of cancer patients.

"We're in a new era now," she said.

troberts@thetelegram.com