In 1997, just 47% of Bristol, Conn.-area women were receiving mammograms according to levels recommended by the American Cancer Society, significantly below the state average. Improving that rate would likely result in earlier breast cancer detection, helping to save lives.
But Suzanne Onorato, director of 128-bed Bristol Hospital's Wellness Center, knew the hospital couldn't undertake such a community public health issue alone.
So it didn't.
The hospital established the "Bristol Community Breast Health Project" in October 1998, involving cancer survivors, physicians, public health officials, business leaders and educators. The public-awareness campaign brought together more than 200 area businesses, conducting more than 35 community outreach "early detection" workshops reaching 25,000 people, enlisting 170 hospital employee volunteers and 90 medical staff volunteers and soliciting more than $300,000 in donations to keep the project and subsidize free mammograms. The efforts improved the rate of mammograms to 78% this year from 47% in 1997, the year before the project was launched. The hospital has performed more than 12,500 mammograms, 350 of which were free.
For the hard work, innovation and results, the project was honored with an award in Sodexho's vision category.
Onorato, who co-chaired the community breast health project, says the campaign required a focal point. "Our initial compliance rate was so low that it was enough to rally the community around it," she says.
Community breast cancer awareness projects sometimes fail because they attack only one of what Onorato describes as the four leading barriers to improving mammogram compliance.
The leaders of the Bristol project decided early on to confront fear and misinformation as well as patients' lack of money for the tests and lack of time to have the tests performed. They also wanted to improve the number of physician referrals for women to have the test. The project established committees to address each of these obstacles.
"Most projects elsewhere tackle a few, but not all at once," she says. "We believed our strategy was the only way to succeed."