Where you live shouldn’t impact your ability to receive quality breast health care. But that is a reality in 26 counties in Arkansas where there is no health care facility with fixed mammography services. This lack of access puts these women at a higher risk of late-stage breast cancer and death.
St. Joseph’s Mercy Health System in Hot Springs and the St. Joseph’s Mercy Volunteer Auxiliary are determined to change that in our region by putting Mercy in Motion through the Mercy Mobile Mammography Unit. This week, St. Joseph’s Mercy Auxiliary pledged to make a $300,000 donation to St. Joseph’s Mercy Health Foundation to help make this dream possible.
"Our last pledge went toward the da Vinci Surgical System and we always want to try to improve the quality of health care at St. Joseph’s Mercy,” said Susan Rima, Director of Volunteer Services. “When St. Joseph’s Mercy came to us about this project the board was excited about it.”
The announcement was made at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs with assistance from hostesses Isabel Anthony, Bernard Cluck, Keeley DeSalvo, Elizabeth Farris and Lynda Jackson. The Mercy Mobile Mammography Unit will ultimately cost more than $600,000 and St. Joseph’s Mercy is working to raise the additional funds.
“Catherine McAuley is our foundress and she said that we provide only the best care for those that are entrusted to us. We’re going to do only the best care for breast cancer,” said St. Joseph’s Mercy President Tim Johnsen. “We are talking about a full 18-wheeler bus. It’s got digital mammography on it. The same radiologist that reads the studies now through the centers would read these studies. We would be going out to rural communities on a scheduled basis. We’ll also provide some services in town.”
Developed to make mammogram screenings more accessible, the Mercy Mobile Mammography Unit will travel to rural locations to assist medically underserved women in south central Arkansas. It is one of only five mobile units in the state, and the only unit to serve Garland, Saline, Clark, Montgomery and Pike Counties. The Mobile Unit not only offers convenience, but also offers women all the privacy they would expect if they were able to travel to a doctor’s office.
St. Joseph’s Mercy had a Mobile Mammography bus in the past and it provided the early detection for Debbie Gregor.
“If it hadn’t have been for that mammogram, if the mobile had not been there, sorry, I might not be here today,” Gregor said. “I feel this is really important. I can stand here and tell you this has made a difference in my life.”
The new Mercy Mobile Mammography Unit will provide the latest technology, including digital mammography. It will also link up with St. Joseph’s Mercy’s electronic health record.
“Digital mammograms are better. It allows us to see through very dense breast tissue and to pick up on things that we might not otherwise see,” said Dr. Brian Owens of Hot Springs Radiology Services. “We want to give women the best opportunity to diagnose anything that might be there. If we can’t see it, we can’t diagnose it.”
At present, the best defense against breast cancer is early detection. There are no fixed mammography services in Grant, Pike and Montgomery counties. Of the cases at St. Joseph’s Mercy in the past year, nine percent came from counties without mammography services.
“Not only do we need to educate the women in the communities that we serve – a large service area throughout south central Arkansas – but we also need to solve the transportation need. That’s where the actual bus comes in,” Johnsen said.
Breast cancer is second only to lung cancer in deaths among women in the United States. Only 53 percent of women 40 and older reported having a mammogram in the past year. In Arkansas, the American Cancer Society has estimated that 1,820 female Arkansans will be newly diagnosed and 410 will die of the disease this year.
“When breast cancer is caught while it’s still contained in the breast at Stage 1 there is a 98 percent survival rate, which is phenomenal,” said Sherrye McBryde of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. “Eighty to 90 percent of all breast cancers in women without symptoms will be found with mammography.”