Government shutdown closes cancer call center

by: Graham Johnson Updated:

empty call center at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
SEATTLE —

A call center that provides potentially life-saving information to cancer patients and their families is closed because of the federal government shutdown.

Eighty-six employees at the National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service are on furlough. Their office, at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is empty.

"It's sad to think that a program that serves cancer patients is 'nonessential,'" said the center's director, Nancy Zbaren.

As many as 11,000 people each month turn to the call center, often right after being diagnosed with cancer. Workers provide expert information in two languages about treatment options and even connect patients with clinical trials. 

"Those patients are still trying to call us and they're not getting through to us," Zbaren said. "It's horrible."

The federal government shutdown is also affecting how researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center interact with federal agencies. Submission of federal grant applications and the flow of federal money has stopped.

In a statement, center directors wrote: "While a federal government shutdown of limited duration would be tolerable, an extended shutdown would be challenging to Fred Hutch in pursuit of its mission to eliminate cancer and other diseases as causes of human suffering and death. Along with the rest of the country, we look forward to a speedy resolution."

 

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