Programs provide screenings support and education to women in need

It’s a staple of women’s health care that many take for granted: The regular mammogram.

Yet last year, more than 700 women in Greater New Haven wouldn’t have had this important screening, if not for Yale New Haven Hospital’s partnership with two programs that provide free mammograms to women in need. The 10 women ultimately diagnosed with cancer last year probably wouldn’t have known about it until their cancer was more advanced.

“Screenings can save lives,” said Carla Giles, Ambulatory manager, who oversees these early detection programs at YNHH. “Ensuring that everyone has access to these types of preventive services is part of the hospital’s mission to improve the health of our communities.”

YNHH receives grants from the Greenwich-based Breast Cancer Alliance and state Department of Public Health’s Connecticut Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Screening Program (CBCCEDP) to screen women who meet age, income and other criteria. Program funds also cover Pap tests for cervical cancer, along with heart disease screenings through the WISEWOMAN program.

Besides funding screening mammograms, the Breast Cancer Alliance supports an outreach program created by YNHH oncologist Andrea Silber, MD. Outreach worker Whitney Allen and “health ambassadors” throughout the area educate women about breast health and healthcare resources.

“I’m there to guide and empower women, so they can make informed decisions about their health and remove barriers to accessing care,” Allen said.

CBCCEDP staff members include Maryjo Gargano, RN, care coordinator, who works with women whose mammograms and Pap tests yield abnormal results. She schedules follow-up tests and appointments and connects them with Smilow Cancer Hospital for treatment, if needed. Gargano and other early detection program staff also work with YNHH and community providers to connect women with primary care and other services and help patients get financial assistance.

Many early detection program patients face significant challenges. A number are not proficient in English, do not trust the healthcare system, lack transportation and/or work at jobs where they can’t get time off for medical appointments. Some have insurance, but struggle with high deductibles.

“It’s particularly difficult for our patient population to navigate the system,” Gargano said. “I’m here to guide them through the entire process, making sure they don’t fall through the cracks.” For more information about these early detection programs, call Jennifer Porto, 203-867-5436.