by Chamidae Ford
In the U.S., Black women are two times more likely to die from cervical cancer and 40% more likely to die from breast cancer. Hispanic women are 40% more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer — and in comparison to white women, 20% more likely to die from it.
Meg Eckenroad, Hologic’s vice president of women’s health, explained that PHE is working to address the vast disparities of service for women of color.
“We started this idea and really brainstormed around it in early 2019,” Eckenroad said. “We were thinking about ‘what can we do to really make a difference and help women lead stronger, healthier lives?’ Because that is truly our purpose, our passion, and our promise. And we leaned into that and we felt like we needed to take it a little step further. So we thought about, at first, just doing breast cancer screening, and then it expanded to cervical and fibroids as well.”
Through these organizations, PHE will be not only providing access to care but also conducting research and spreading awareness around breast and cervical cancer.
“It would be really easy for us to do a day of free screening here or there, but we really wanted to build a sustainable solution, which is why we have three pillars. There’s research, there’s education and awareness, and there’s care,” Eckenroad said. “As a manufacturer, we can do a lot in the awareness, education, and the research, and we can provide the care, but we really couldn’t get it to this group of people that we knew were not having access. So we partner with RAD-AID to help us deliver that care, Black Women’s Health Imperative and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health to help us with the awareness, and all three really on the research part of it. And all three of those organizations are very well-established non-profit organizations that have values and vision and expertise that complement ours. And we know that working with them, we would make a bigger, more relevant, and sustainable difference than we could ever do by ourselves.”
John Scheel from RAD-AID spoke about the types of assistance the organization will be providing to help local communities to broaden services for people. They will be partnering with local health centers like the Burien Sea Mar Community Health Center in order to provide women the care they need.
“We’re partnering with federally-qualified health centers, which are serving the most vulnerable patients across the country. And we’re partnering them with a tertiary care center so that we can strengthen the referral pathway across the continuum of care. We know that non-communicable diseases like cancer require multidisciplinary efforts to improve survival. Breast cancer is a classic example of that. And that is really beyond the capabilities of the primary care setting. It’s very different from cervical cancer screening, which can occur in the primary care setting in the office. Breast imaging requires mammogram machines and higher-expense equipment. So sometimes it’s taking the mobile mammography program that we’ve built or already exists and getting them to the federally qualified health centers. Sometimes it’s installing a mammogram unit inside the primary care setting so that women have access to it.”
One of the main events PHE will be funding is Well Woman Days. The Burien Sea Mar Community Health Center hosted their first one with RAD-AID earlier this month.
“The Well Woman Day is a concentrated effort at reaching out to patients who still need screening and inviting them to come in,” Tara Hayes, a Sea Mar Burien nurse practitioner, said. “It’s on a Saturday at the Burien clinic, which works better for some patients who may have conflicts with childcare and work schedules and whatnot. With it being a direct outreach, it sort of puts the emphasis on the importance of that for women. If they’re receiving a call or a message directly from their clinic that says, ‘Hey, we noticed you’re overdue for this,’ it should raise the level of importance for a lot of women.”
The Well Woman Day will be happening every three months to allow for opportunities to tweak and improve the event.
“After each Well-Woman Day, we really take the time to assess what worked well, what didn’t, because it’s a big investment of time and energy to get them up and running. And so we want to make sure that they’re successful and that women benefit as much as possible from the resources that are available that day,” Hayes said. “We have a mammography van onsite and we are actually getting much higher rates of people showing up for their mammograms. Because that’s a scarce resource, and if you don’t have the best outreach, then those services, even if they’re available, go unused and it doesn’t benefit the community.”
For clinics like the Burien Sea Mar, this project creates the opportunity to not only build trust in the community but strengthen their relationship with the people in it.
“Getting the messaging out there that this is an important service directly from their clinic and their providers [is] important. Sea Mar generally is a very trusted resource for our community, in South Seattle and throughout Western Washington,” Hayes said. “And then also building trust. So establishing care with patients as a primary care provider so that they are familiar with you, you are familiar with them, and you can have an established relationship. That’s one of the things — encouraging women that even if they’re not getting a test or a particular exam, we still want to see them at least once a year to check-in and offer what’s needed.”
The goal of Project Health Equality and the facilities they are partnering with is to strengthen the process in which people are diagnosed and increase awareness.
“It’s beyond just the screening,” Scheel said. “We know that screening only saves lives if it’s linked to early treatment. So even if we can detect cancers early …. We need to make sure that the entire referral pathway from screening to diagnostic to tissue sampling to treatment is all strengthened because the delay in any one of those components lessens our chance for a successful outcome, which is survival. We’re making sure that they have access to diagnostics here to [do] tissue sampling, and the patient navigator and the health system support a woman’s pathway throughout the entire process. We’re collecting anonymized data, but we want to really evaluate the program’s success and make changes as we get more mature so that we can move the needle forward as fast and as far as possible.”
The Burien Sea Mar Community Health Center will be hosting another Well Woman Day on July 17.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on June 1, 2021, to better reflect the partnerships between Hologic and other groups involved in launching Project Health Equity.
Chamidae Ford is currently a senior journalism major at the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. You can reach Chamidae Ford at IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured Image: SeaMar Burien’s Well Woman Day is an effort to increase cervical and breast cancer screening among Black and Latina women. Photo by Suzi Pratt/Getty Images for Hologic.
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