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Breast cancer group brings advanced screenings to rural areas

October 5, 2018

The Rose, which has served thousands of women for decades with low or no-cost breast cancer screening and diagnostic services, now has all its clinics and mobile buses equipped with the newest and most advanced screening technology.

With two new buses that offer 3-D mammography — and third one on the way — The Rose travels dozens of counties including Brazoria, Galveston and Harris, screening patients with or without insurance on equipment that gives radiologists a 40 percent greater ability of detecting a tumor earlier, said Dorothy Gibbons, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit organization.

Since late 2017, the buses have provided over 10,000 patients with screening exams, according to the latest reports on the group’s website.

As of this year, the two freestanding Rose clinics and the buses, also called coaches, have all been equipped with the 3-D devices, which got approval from Medicare and Medicaid as a covered procedure in 2016, Gibbons said.

“This was the year we transitioned to 3-D totally,” Gibbons said. “It’s a huge thing. You just don’t find that on mobile.”

With the 3-D machines, radiologists can often tell whether a growth looks malignant or benign and if it should require a biopsy or only an ultrasound, she said. That leads to a lower rate in which clients are called to a physician’s office for further testing.

The recall-rate can be reduced by 15 percent with the better visibility of the 3-D mammography, Gibbons said.

The coaches are 40-foot buses with pink graphics that travel across 37 counties in southeast Texas and offer screenings and biopsies at convenient times and locations.

The first coach was added in August 2017 the second one in March. The price for one is $1.3 million, Gibbons said, and the costs were covered through grants. The third coach that will soon be added was paid for by an anonymous donor.

Of all women in Harris County who were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, The Rose diagnosed 11 percent of those, Gibbons said.

“We are just two centers and two mobiles,” Gibbons said. “It’s amazing we’ve already booked up two coaches. It just shows that women will go get their mammograms if we make it convenient to where you work or pray. We’ve always been about access to care, but I think those mobiles show it.”.

Gibbons said a survey of patients revealed that 65 percent said they wouldn’t have gotten their annual (mammogram) if The Rose didn’t come to them.

The mobile coaches are fully booked for the remainder of 2018, and the group is already booking for dates in 2019 at churches, businesses and other organization’s sites who want the coaches to stage screenings at their locations.

The Rose partners with clinics, schools, recreation centers and other nonprofits to set up their equipment and provide services and has attracted women from over 80 counties for their screenings.

The Rose, founded in 1986 by Gibbons and surgeon Dr. Dixie Melillo, provides breast health care to women, regardless of their ability to pay through advocacy and access to care. They offer mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, same-day diagnosis, on-site physicians and advanced digital technology.

The organization accept patients with insurance coverage. Those without insurance can pay with cash at a reduced rate, or if they meet income qualifications (200 percent of the poverty level) can be sponsored by the group and receive services at no cost.

Cost of the traditional 2-D mammography is $150 for cash-pay patients, and the 3-D machine costs $210 for cash pay, said Candice Saxton, Brazoria County community liaison with The Rose.

A grant from Brazoria County United Way has enabled The Rose to cover more rural areas of that county and treat more patients in the cities and countryside alike than they have before, she said. Before the mobile units, technicians and physicians would have carry equipment to various facilities.

“It covers the whole county, but with the mobile program, the whole idea is try to make getting your mammogram more convenient,” Saxton said.

The nonprofit partnered with the United Way and received a $90,000 grant for 2018 to increase access in the area. It received grant funds from United Way for the past three years, but this year’s grant was the largest.

“We’re coming pretty often because of that grant from the United Way,” said Saxton. “The gift will provide 240 underserved patients with screenings, diagnostic services and access to treatment.”

From when the mobile coaches kicked off in July 2017 until the next June, The Rose conducted 48 mobile days in Brazoria County.

There are only 10 more mobile dates scheduled throughout Brazoria County for the remainder of 2018, she said.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of Brazoria County women having screenings done through us,” Saxton said. “At one point, Brazoria County was our No. 2 county next to Harris County.”

Gibbons said for every three women with insurance who choose The Rose to perform their annual screenings, the group is able to cover the cost of screening one woman without ability to pay. Because of this, it wants to offer the best technology and physicians to attract patients.

“You’re taking care your health, but helping someone else in the process,” Saxton said of people who choose The Rose for their covered screenings.

The Rose offers services at two freestanding locations in Houston. One in southeast Houston near the intersection of Interstate 45 and Fuqua Street and another in the Galleria area near Loop 610 and Bissonnet.

In 2019, the group has several dates scheduled to appear at Stephen F. Austin Community Health Center at 1111 W. Adoue St. in Alvin. Those interested in attending one of these dates can contact the health center at 281-824-1480.

To find out about other dates available to the public, contact The Rose’s mobile department to register for a screening at 281-464-5136.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, The Rose served over 40,000 patients, with almost 7,000 of those being uninsured or sponsored, according to statistics reflected on the group’s website. Just over a half a million women, insured and uninsured, have turned to The Rose for screening since its founding.

Gibbons believes in the power of early detection and it drives her to provide screening access to more women.

“Women do not need to be afraid to go get a mammogram,” Gibbons said. “Just start at 40 and do it every year. This is truly something that is curable if you catch it early.”

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