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Princeton Baptist Offering $99 Mammograms This Month

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — During October, everyone is used to seeing pink ribbons, pink hats, pink cars along with the many activities and events surrounding breast cancer awareness month. But there is a side that may not be so pretty in pink for those who cannot afford mammograms—and Princeton Baptist Medical Center aims to change that by providing $99 mammograms this month.

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Katisha Vance, M.D.

By Ameera Steward

During October, everyone is used to seeing pink ribbons, pink hats, pink cars along with the many activities and events surrounding breast cancer awareness month. But there is a side that may not be so pretty in pink for those who cannot afford mammograms—and Princeton Baptist Medical Center aims to change that by providing $99 mammograms this month.

Oncologist Katisha Vance, M.D., said the $99 will cover screening for patients who don’t have insurance.

“Unfortunately, we have lots of women who need to be screened but don’t have health [coverage],” she said. “This [$99 fee] allows a woman who needs a mammogram to walk in off the street, get the study done, and have radiologist read it and let her know if she has anything to be worried about.”

Mammograms are the gold standard test for detecting breast cancer, Vance explained, adding that the process is fairly easy. Patients are told to place each breast on a flat platform, where the breast is pressed from above as well as from the sides for “a sophisticated X-ray,” she said.

Also, it is important to note that if a woman is diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer in Alabama, she qualifies for Medicaid if she does not have insurance.

“I have, unfortunately, taken care of too many women over the past 12 years who have found masses in their breasts and … thought, ‘I don’t have any health insurance. I don’t know what to do about this,’” Vance said. “If [a woman] comes in through the emergency department, we can get the process going. … If [a patient gets] medical attention for what is obviously a breast cancer, then in this state we can get Medicaid for them, and that will cover their treatment.

“That means we are able to find breast cancers earlier, when they have a better prognosis—and that’s why it’s so important to do this screening in women.”

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Age Limit

Over the years, questions have been raised about the age at which women should start getting mammograms. Many organizations recommend that women start screening at the age of 40; this is for an average-risk patient, someone who does not have a strong family history of breast cancer and hasn’t had radiation to the chest or another problem. Other organizations say women should begin getting mammograms on a regular basis at age 50 because most breast cancers—approximately 80 percent, Vance said—occur in women who are 50 and older.

For women with a family history of breast cancer, however, the guidelines are a bit different. If the patient has the genetic mutation BRCA1 or BCRA2, an abbreviation for BReast CAncer gene, doctors talk to those women about getting clinical exams in their 20s, Vance said. Additionally, those women should consider getting mammograms and MRI screenings of the breasts in their 20s.

“Those guidelines probably don’t get followed a great deal because I don’t think we screen enough women for BRCA1 and BRCA2,” Vance said. “You have entire families that know that they have those mutations, and those people probably do get screened, but we probably miss out on those who do not have a strong history of with the mutation. High-risk women should get screened earlier.”

Even those who are not BRCA1- or BRCA2-positive but are considered high-risk should start earlier. For example, if a woman’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, Vance suggests that she start her screenings 10 years earlier than when her mother was diagnosed.

Self-Exams

In addition to getting mammograms regularly, women should do breast self-exams regularly for early detection. Vance suggests that women do a self-exam once a month to check for changes in or problems with their breasts. According to breastcancer.org, “The more you examine your breasts, the more you will learn about them and the easier it will become for you to tell if something has changed. … Examine yourself several days after your period ends, when your breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. If you are no longer having periods, choose a day that’s easy to remember, such as the first or last day of the month.” Vance adds that it’s best to check breasts in the shower or bathtub with soapy hands, so the hand can move easier around the breast.

Self-exams are important even if a woman has annual clinical breast exams done by a doctor or nurse practitioner because things can change in between those exams, so Vance encourages women to “do that [self-exam] once a month. … That’s fine. That’s all we need you to do.”

An ultrasound also can be used with a mammogram to screen women, especially if they’re young; it will reveal if the mammogram is showing a cystic (fluid-filled) or solid mass. An MRI can help, as well, but it should not be used in average-risk women because it is very sensitive and picks up everything, some of which “you don’t need to know about because they’re never going to cause a problem,” Vance said.

“Because breast cancer is talked about so much, it makes every woman a little bit worried if she feels something that is just a little off,” she added. “I still say get it checked by your doctor just to be sure. The majority of the time it may be nothing, but if something feels different, get it checked out.”

Reducing Risk

One way to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer or making it worse is by keeping your weight down, Vance said, explaining that estrogen is made not only in the ovaries but also in fat cells. According to the Susan G. Komen website, komen.org, “Estrogens are natural hormones that are important in sexual development and other body functions. Higher amounts of estrogen in the blood are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in women after menopause. Researchers are studying a possible link to breast cancer before menopause.”

“So, if you are overweight with increased fat cells, … then your estrogen levels are going to be higher, and that’ll increase [your risk] for getting breast cancer,” Vance said. “One of the easiest things a woman can do is maintain a healthy weight.”

Additionally, breast cancer risk can be reduced by getting two and a half to five hours (150 to 300 minutes) of exercise a week, as well as not smoking.

“I can’t think of a single cancer [diagnosis] in which someone said, ‘Your smoking didn’t play into this,’” Vance said. “Never smoking is the best option. If you’re already a smoker, stopping will help.

“It’s very much about good self-care. I also think it’s important to emphasize that a whole lot of breast cancer is about genetics and environment. … I’m always very cautious about not placing blame on women when they develop breast cancer or when breast cancer comes back.”

Vance said Princeton Baptist wants to make sure as many women as possible get mammograms.

“It bothers me that so many women go to work every single day and have jobs that cover the bills, but their jobs don’t offer health insurance and because of that they can’t get the necessary preventive care they need,” said Vance.

Princeton Baptist Medical Center is offering $99 mammograms throughout the month of October—Mondays through Thursdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to noon. To schedule an appointment, call 205-783-7100 or visit www.brookwoodbaptisthealth.com.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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