Mobile mammography builds health equity in community

October 19, 2021

On a recent Monday morning, Flor Lopez made the 10-minute walk from her home to St. Margaret’s Center in Inglewood before her shift at a local restaurant, where she works as a cashier. She had an appointment to get a mammogram from a mobile mammography unit that Venice Family Clinic had arranged to be on site that day.

Flor goes to St. Margaret’s Center for help with immigration issues, and when staff there told her that Venice Family Clinic, which takes its mobile clinic van to the Center every Monday, would be offering mammograms in her neighborhood, she put herself on the list.

She hadn’t had a mammogram in five years. Flor currently doesn’t have health insurance, so she sees a doctor only when she’s sick. She knew she was behind on preventive care.

“I’m 50 now, so I know I need to get a mammogram,” she said. “But with my work schedule, getting an appointment can be difficult.”

And because she needed to work that day, Flor was glad she could get a morning appointment. Once her scans were finished, which took about 15 minutes, she was on her way to the restaurant to start her shift.

Offering mammograms to people like Flor where they are is one of the ways Venice Family Clinic lowers barriers to care, helping to achieve health equity for our patients and community.

Through our breast cancer screening program – both from traditional referrals to our imaging partners and mobile mammography – nearly 62% of our eligible patients ages 40-74 have had mammograms as of August 2021, in line with the national rate.

At Venice Family Clinic, we follow American Cancer Society (ACS) guidelines, which recommend annual mammograms for women ages 45-54, switching to every two years at age 55. However, women have the choice to start yearly screenings at age 40.

“We took a serious look at breast cancer screening recommendations from different organizations and felt like these had the most benefit to women,” said Dr. Karen Lamp, director of women’s health at Venice Family Clinic. “The ACS guidelines are different from other expert guidelines that we follow for other cancer screenings. Breast cancer is often more aggressive in women under 55, and evidence shows that more frequent screening results in lower death rates in younger-aged women. If we were to screen every two years in the 45-54 age group, we risk not catching cancer early enough, and that could have devastating effects on our patients.”

Dr. Lamp pointed out that not only does the Clinic want to ensure we screen women in the smartest way possible, but we especially want to reach women experiencing homelessness, knowing they have lower rates of cancer screenings in general.”

“We believe that all women have the right to health care and want to facilitate that for our most vulnerable patients, meeting them where they are by bringing services to them,” Dr. Lamp said. “We recognize that these women have extra challenges in their lives, and maybe it’s asking too much to have them schedule an appointment and find transportation to get to that appointment. We believe they should have the same health care as everyone else but just need a little extra assistance.”

One of these women is Goldmon Harmon, 60, who hadn’t had a mammogram in many years and wanted to get one because she had pain in one of her breasts. Goldmon experiences homelessness and goes to St. Margaret’s Center for help with a place to stay and to get food.

On the same day that Flor received a mammogram from the mobile unit, Goldmon happened to be at the Center. When she asked the Venice Family Clinic team for some water, a team member let her know that she could get a mammogram right there and then if she wanted – which she did.

“If this service wasn’t here, I probably wouldn’t have gotten a mammogram anywhere else,” Goldmon said. “I’m glad it’s here so I can get it done.”

Funding for our mobile mammography program is provided by the RAR Foundation.