OSU partners with Albany InReach Services to learn about Latinas’ experiences with breast cancer screening

Group Photo

L to R: Veronica Irvin, Alejandra “Ali” Sanchez, Miao Zhao, Erica Morales Santos and Alma Torres

A recent grant from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute Community Partnership Program has enabled College of Public Health and Human Sciences Assistant Professor Veronica Irvin to work with community partner Albany InReach Services to gain insight in to Latinas’ experiences with the breast screening process.

Her research project – “Latinas’ experience with mobile mammography and bilingual navigation services from screen through follow-up care” – was one of 10 to receive funding this year. The $25,000 developmental grant allows Veronica and her team to take an in-depth look at Latinas’ experiences through screening with services that help guide the women during the entire process.

“Receiving this funding from the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute will allow us to learn how Latinas’ experience with the health care system changes when they have access to a patient navigator and how perceptions of care change when a mammogram is offered in a mobile clinic rather than a clinic,” she says.

Working in synergy  

Veronica and InReach Clinic Manager Miao Zhao, a 2016 CPHHS Preceptor Impact Award recipient, are leading the project. The project team also includes OSU doctoral student Alma Torres, undergraduate student Erica Morales Santos and alum Alejandra “Ali” Sanchez, BS ’16, who now works for InReach as a community health care navigator. Rounding out the team are a handful of CPHHS undergraduate students, who are assisting with interviews, coding and analyzing data.

“Miao and I have partnered on evaluations of the existing bilingual patient navigator services at InReach, which previously did not include cancer screenings,” Veronica says. “We hope to document Latinas’ current understanding of the mammography procedure, their test results and the next steps in the care continuum. This will help us learn how we can enhance the program and help them and others in the community complete cancer screening and any needed follow-up care.” 

During the screening process, Ali served as a health care navigator for the 30 women who received a mammogram screening on a mobile unit. She helped with appointment scheduling and outreach, gave a presentation on breast cancer and provided support throughout the entire care continuum.

“It’s important for us to make sure our patients’ voices are heard. Some of the patients I’ve had the pleasure to work with are shy or embarrassed about their situation,” Ali says. “They have inspired me to do more for our communities and have taught me the importance of providing a hand up and treating everyone with dignity regardless of their background.”

Miao and Veronica

Miao and Veronica lead the team

Alma – who is bilingual – will now meet with underserved Latinas to interview them about their experiences with receiving the mammograms. She will ask them how they heard about the screenings and if they received follow-up care, and talk with them about supporting factors, barriers and comprehension of any education materials that may influence choice and their recommendation of mammography to others. Alma says the team has a big responsibility to understand Latina community values and needs.

“From my experience working with Latinos, I learned that successful research and sustainable interventions should be based on a deep understanding of cultural traits, language and other distinctive characteristics of the targeted population,” Alma says. “As a Latina, it’s a joy to be involved in this project.”

Breaking barriers

Barriers Latina patients and other vulnerable populations face in receiving mammograms or other cancer prevention/detection screenings include:

  • Lack of knowledge about self-detection, early detection and available resources
  • Language barriers, including inability to dialogue with health care professionals
  • Health insurance
  • Transportation limitations

“Inequities persist in the U.S. health care system even after the passage of the Affordable Act Act because of the lack of awareness of benefits and the lack of understanding of how to navigate the insurance and health systems among newly insured patients,” Veronica says. “Our shared goal is to highlight and implement programs that improve health and wellness for all, and this partnership is just one example of how non-profits and academia interact not only to advance science but to better the health of the community.”

Miao says partnering with OSU is creating an unprecedented collaboration that will deliver cost-effective solutions that benefit everyone. “I’m amazed at our community’s generosity in helping us expand health services for this underserved population,” she says.

The research project is expected to be completed in January 2018.