Prolonged delays in cancer screening due to the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to increase existing health disparities. Although screenings are now returning to pre-pandemic levels, health centers have seen an increase nationally in cancers due to a decrease in prevention management (Journal of Medicine, 2021).
At Open Door, we know that many of our patients face many obstacles in receiving cancer screening and diagnostic services. These include a language barrier, lack of health care insurance, transportation issues and less experience navigating our complicated health care system.
To ensure that our most vulnerable patients – a majority of whom live at or below the federal poverty level, are uninsured, and are Spanish speaking – have equal access to cancer prevention and treatment services, Open Door collaborates with multiple community partners. These partnerships are crucial to helping our most vulnerable patients.
Open Door’s partnerships, include those with providers and centers that provide cancer screening, diagnostic and treatment services. In addition, in 2010, Open Door partnered with two other Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), Sun River Health and the Institute for Family Health, and created the Hudson Information Technology for Community Health (HITCH).
One of HITCH’s main projects is administering the New York State Cancer Services Program (CSP). CSP provides case management and covers the cost of breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening, and diagnostic services for eligible patients at the three FQHCs. “Our partnership with Open Door is instrumental in helping their most vulnerable patients receive the age-appropriate, high quality cancer screenings that every human deserves. Together we have helped thousands of patients get mammograms, pap smears, HPV tests and colorectal screenings and have enabled hundreds of patients to their have cancers found very early, get the treatment they need, and survive,” said Nicki Reno-Welt, PA-C and CSP’s Clinical Coordinator.
Open Door care coordination staff actively seek out patients who are due for a cancer screening. Once identified, Open Door patient advocates and navigators assist these patients throughout the screening process – helping with paperwork, scheduling appointments, securing transportation to appointments, and coordinating care between all medical providers involved. For patients lacking family/friend support or otherwise struggling to coordinate their care, Open Door provides case management services on an ongoing basis
“Open Door always pays attention to the cultural needs of the patients. All of our patient advocates are bilingual so they can take the time to speak to patients in their preferred language and make the information easier to understand”, said Senior Director of Community Health Karen Mandel. “Some of the work we do is addressing other factors affecting the context of a patient’s life, so they feel like they have a moment to get the medical care they need.”
Early detection was integral to identifying the cancer of a recent patient. “Lia” was having difficulty getting to her mammogram screening appointment due to working 6 days a week. CSP worked with Open Door and a radiology site to secure her an appointment at 4:00 pm on a Saturday, which she was finally able to attend. Screening results indicated very early breast cancer. However, because it was caught so early, Lia was able to be treated with just one surgery and oral medication and is now back to her regular life, cancer free. Without the combined efforts to overcome the obstacles she faced, her cancer likely would have been found much, much later … which would have changed the trajectory of her entire life.
Other Open Door partners include SOUL RYEDERS in Rye, NY and Breast Cancer Alliance in Greenwich, CT. SOUL RYEDERS provides funding for Open Door’s Spanish-language cancer support groups. These groups transitioned to virtual during the pandemic, allowing Open Door patients from throughout Westchester to participate. Breast Cancer Alliance gives funding for Open Door to provide education and breast health navigation services; outreach to women out of date with mammograms; and care coordination, navigation or case management for women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. In addition, they have helped Open Door patients with housing or financial issues stemming from the pandemic.
Together with the support of these community partners, Open Door ensures that patients have equal access to life changing imaging, cancer treatment providers, and case management services.