Q & A with Kathy Mezzalingua

President of Saint Agatha Foundation explains how the nonprofit provides financial help to women who undergo breast cancer treatment

By Mary Beth Roach

Q: What is Saint Agatha Foundation and how does it function?

A: It is to assist breast cancer patients in Central New York who have financial need. Laurie, my daughter, had been in the hospital for one of her surgeries and saw that some of her friends, who also had breast cancer, weren’t able to afford some of the services that she received, some of the medications, surgeries and treatments. The mission of her foundation was to support, comfort and care for breast cancer patients through financial assistance programs. The support allows breast cancer patients to focus on getting well and not the weight of their bills. That was her vision.

Q: How do patients access the foundation?

A: They can go to the website and there’s a patient access portal. It depends on where they’re being treated because we offer funds to seven counties in Central New York — Onondaga, Cortland, Cayuga, Madison, Oneida, Oswego and Jefferson counties. The best resource for patients is to visit our patient page on the website — saintagathafoundation.org — and submit an inquiry or call 888-878-7900. We are administered by National Philanthropic Trust in Philadelphia.

Q: What are the logistics of accessing that funding?

A: The website will guide them step by step. We work with CancerConnects and the bills are submitted to them. Our contact there does a great job of vetting them to make sure that they’re underinsured or uninsured and then they pay the bills. People have a hard time understanding that we will pay their bills.

Q: Are there certain criteria or parameters that the patients have to meet?

A: Just financial. If they’re uninsured or underinsured, we will take care of them. And it isn’t only their hospital or their medical bills. We will support them while they’re going through chemotherapy with gas money, utilities, mortgage, Wegmans cards. This is Laurie’s dream. She wanted them to be totally free of worry financially so they could just focus on healing.

Q: How many patients have you served since the foundation was established?

A: We have served 8,822 individuals within the counties that we serve. We’ve given out 232 grant payments to 31 organizations. It isn’t only hospitals, there are other ancillary services. For example, to Legal Aid, for the patients who may have some legal issues. We give to Camp Kesem for the children of breast cancer patients who might be suffering because their mother is going through it. We give to Symphoria. It helps them with music while they’re going through chemotherapy.

Q: How do you keep the monies coming into the foundation? Do you accept donations? Is some of the money invested?

A: Laurie left a significant legacy and she wanted it all to go to Saint Agatha. We have invested it very wisely and it’s actually doubled in the 13 years that we’ve been running this organization. We do accept donations. There’s an opportunity on our website.  So many people are so impressed with what we’re doing, they want to help us.

Q: The funding doesn’t go into research. It goes directly to patient care. Is that correct?

A: Absolutely. Laurie was very, very clear about that. She said I don’t want my name on buildings, no endowments, no research. There are other organizations doing that. She was so clear about that, she said: “just help women.”

Kathy Mezzalingua serves as the president and board chair of Saint Agatha Foundation, an organization her daughter, Laurie, established in 2004 to benefit breast cancer patients. Diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 29, Laurie, unfortunately, died in 2009, at the age of 41. Her legacy continues through the foundation.