Article by Cindy Barth Editor, Orlando Business Journal
Saving lives: This local initiative helps low-income women get free mammograms
Five years ago, after a succession of uninsured female patients came to Shepherd’s Hope Inc. for their health care needs and indicated they hadn’t had a mammogram in several years, Marni Stahlman decided to look for a way to help.
The CEO of the Orlando-based nonprofit organization — which provides free primary and specialty care medical services to the uninsured — approached Dr. Robert Posniak, president of Sand Lake Imaging, about creating a unique one-for-one partnership: For each new patient who gets a mammogram at Sand Lake Imaging during the month of October, the facility would donate a free mammogram screening to one of the Shepherd’s Hope patients.
Today, Shepherd’s Hope has ordered 2,203 mammograms for its female patients, in addition to helping 879 others get more involved diagnostic mammograms after their initial screenings. The nonprofit also has had a similar relationship with Florida Hospital and its mobile mammogram unit for about six years.
Beyond the nearly $1.3 million value of the partnership, the more important impact is it’s been lifesaving for many, Stahlman told Orlando Business Journal: “One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, but for those who are uninsured, this lifesaving procedure is far from reach. We’ve done 480 screening mammograms so far this year, and of that total, 239 needed further diagnostic attention.”
Dr. Robert Posniak agreed to partner with Shepherd’s Hope back in 2013
In fact, breast cancer is the second-leading cause of death among women of all ages. But for the uninsured, a mammogram often is last on their list of things that need attention due to the cost involved.
Although several health care organizations have very generous offers of $30 mammograms in October, many women still are unable to juggle that cost with other basic needs, Stahlman said.
As a result, many uninsured women forgo their annual mammogram — a procedure designed to detect breast cancer early and help reduce mortality.
Skipping a mammogram can be a critical mistake, Posniak said, because a routine annual screening mammography for an average-risk woman beginning at age 40 has saved lives. “And it gives more treatment options — if diagnosed early,” Posniak said.
The need for early detection and a wider array of treatment options is something near and dear to Stahlman’s heart. Her mother battled breast cancer successfully, but it recurred when she was 73, leaving her to fight the battle once again. Stahlman’s sister also had breast cancer.
“As you can imagine, breast cancer is very personal to me,” Stahlman told OBJ. “And [getting a mammogram] is something so easy to do, yet it’s also easy to forget. We want to make sure these women don’t forget.”
Stahlman of Shepherd’s Hope (on right) supporting SLI Pink October 2018 with the Believe Scarf
Part of the reason women are being remiss about getting mammograms is due to conflicting information about the best age to start, said Dr. Lynda Frye, a radiologist/breast imaging specialist at Sand Lake Imaging. But with 21 percent of all breast cancer cases occurring before the age of 50, “you want to make sure you’re paying attention. At age 40, you’re at an average risk, which is why you should have a mammogram every year after that,” she said.
After all, a breast cancer diagnosis not only has financial and health implications for the individual, it also has serious workplace ramifications.
The National Business Coalition on Health estimated cancer’s annual cost for U.S. employers on medical care and lost productivity to be about $264 billion. That doesn’t take into account the after effects from chemotherapy and other factors that make it difficult for those dealing with the disease to work regular hours and keep up a regular schedule many times.
That’s why Stahlman gets excited when she shares results of the program. In its first year, 200-plus women got free screenings. By 2017, 480 women were helped through the partnership, and that number already has matched this year to date, Stahlman said.
Stahlman concludes, “What you find can be lifesaving. It’s one of the most important things a woman can do for her personal health.”