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Phoebe Teams with Churches and Morehouse College On Prostate Cancer Project

Albany, GA | February 1, 2022 – On a frigid Saturday morning, bundled-up volunteers braved wind chills in the teens as they directed a steady stream of cars into the parking lot of Mt. Zion Baptist Church in south Albany.  The men in those cars did not come to the church for a worship service or Bible study.  They were there to take part in an innovative community health program called Hams & Haircuts, put on by the Elevation Project.

“I want to keep on top of my health, and this is a good way to do it,” said 54 year-old George Darrisaw, one of 137 men who got screened for prostate cancer at the event.  “And, it’s free, so why not take advantage of it?”

Once inside the warm walls of Mt. Zion, the men were met by dozens more church volunteers who cheerfully led them through the process.  For volunteer Maurice Elliard, this project is personal.  “My father died of prostate cancer that had already metastasized by the time it was discovered.  I also had a brother who had prostate cancer, and the impact it had on them is what led to my passion for this,” he said.

As one of four champions of the Elevation Project at Mt. Zion, Elliard underwent special training last fall.  “Our primary role (as champions) is to take the message to the community and get men to come to events like this,” he said.

The Elevation Project is a partnership between Phoebe, the Morehouse School of Medicine and Albany area churches.  Phoebe urologist Dr. John McGill is the medical lead for the project which has developed into a perfect outlet for his passionate commitment to community health.  “Lives can be changed, and we can do it together.  This is the core of what we need to be doing in this community,” Dr. McGill said.

While each man in attendance received a goodie bag that included a free ham and had an opportunity to get a free haircut from several local barbers, the main purpose was to allow a nurse to draw blood for a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test.  “Our goal is to screen 1,000 men in one year,” Dr. McGill said.

Inside the buzzing activity room at Mt. Zion, Brian Rivers stood against a wall, quietly taking it all in, but barely able to contain his excitement.  “This is incredible.  On one of the coldest days of the year, to see this turnout.  To see barbers giving their time on a Saturday – which is usually their busiest day of the week – speaks to the level of commitment here,” said Dr. Rivers who is the Director of the Cancer Health Equity Institute at the Morehouse School of Medicine.

He has been involved in many grassroots, community health projects through his career, but Dr. Rivers says there’s something special about this one.  “This should definitely be replicated around the state of Georgia.  This will serve as a model for the country as a way to address health problems that plague rural areas,” he said.  “This model and this level of engagement are not seen anywhere else in the country, especially in the middle of a pandemic when so many resources are focused on COVID,” Dr. Rivers added.

Georgia’s incidence rate and death rate for prostate cancer are well above the national averages.  Early detection of cancer often results in easier and more successful treatments that can save lives, and the goal of this partnership is to increase prostate cancer screening rates and detect more cancers in their early stages, particularly among African American men who are at higher risk of prostate cancer.  If any Elevation Project participant’s blood test shows a high PSA level, he will be referred for follow-up care.

So far, the Elevation Project has screened 287 men at four church events.  The next Ham & Haircuts is scheduled for Feb. 19 from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church at 115 Moultrie Road.

George Darrisaw does not expect bad news from the screening he got at Mt. Zion, but he knows there is only one way to be sure, and he’s glad so many other men joined him for the free testing.  “A lot of times, men shy away from doctors, and we don’t take care of ourselves like we should,” he said.  “This is a great partnership, and I believe it will build a healthier community and better lives.”