PAMF Breast Health Center Provides Free Mammograms for Ravenswood Clinic Clients
Every day, Rita Sohlich, M.D. a radiologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, sees the benefits of early detection of breast cancer. As an expert at breast MRI, breast biopsy and intervention, mammography and outcome analysis, Dr. Sohlich is passionate about making breast health screenings available to everyone.
“When I started at PAMF six years ago, I took over as lead radiologist in Breast Imaging from my colleague and friend, Dr. Tracey Dellaripa, and continued her goal to bring high quality breast ultrasound to the clinic,” Sohlich says. “Under the mentorship of Dr. Tony Marzoni, Palo Alto Division president and Dr. Solon Finkelstein, a PAMF radiologist for 45 years, we conceptualized and designed the Breast Imaging Center. Offering something back to the community was an integral part of our mission.”
In February, 2012, Dr. Sohlich oversaw the launch of a new program that has been an ambition of hers for years. Building on PAMF’s long-time relationship with East Palo Alto’s Ravenswood Family Health Center, Dr. Sohlich has been collaborating with Ravenswood for more than a year to provide free mammograms to more than 250 eligible Ravenswood patients, who come to the Palo Alto Center one Saturday each month.
“The radiology physicians and technologists decided unanimously to offer their time and expertise to provide digital screening mammograms, breast ultrasound and breast biopsies if needed to the Ravenswood patients,” Sohlich says. “Even uninsured women receive a complete cycle of breast health care, from diagnosis to treatment.”
Between 30 and 50 women can receive their free mammogram on the monthly Saturday clinic day, which runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The atmosphere in the waiting area is comforting and colorful with light snacks and pink breast self-care gift bags.
“This is not just an appointment, it’s an event,” says Cheryl Hogue, PAMF digital imagery department supervisor. “The women we care for expressed genuine gratitude for the care, and they appreciate the positive experience.”
“Lots of people are scared or nervous,” explains Vania Garcia, medical assistant and Women’s Health Program assistant at the Ravenswood clinic. “It is really important to teach them what a mammogram is, what it feels like and why it is important. Several women have said that they were surprised by how fast and painless the test was at PAMF’s Breast Health Center compared to other facilities.”
PAMF’s Breast Imaging Center is staffed with dedicated mammographers and fellowship-trained breast radiologists who work closely with a multi-disciplinary team of cancer specialists. The center has five mammography rooms for both screening and diagnostic mammography, two ultrasound rooms, one stereotactic biopsy room, and the newest model of breast MRI.
Belinda Hernandez, director of health education, prevention and behavioral health services at the Ravenswood Clinic, emphasizes the value of communication and support for each patient.
“We do everything to ensure our patients get their annual mammogram, for example by being there to translate and reassure them,” Hernandez says. “After women have had a good experience, we encourage them to tell their friends. Their positive word-of-mouth can persuade other women to have their exam.”
The program has already had important successes. In the first three months, nearly 100 women have had mammograms, a first for many of them. Early-stage breast cancer was discovered in one 42-year-old patient, who had an eight millimeter invasive ductal carcinoma. She has begun treatment and her prognosis is excellent.
“It has been a truly successful start, and we’re eager to care for more women this year,” says Dr. Sohlich. “It’s a pleasure to work with the Ravenswood team who consistently show such compassionate support for the people they serve.”
PAMF’s Breast Imaging Center, located at 49 Wells on the Palo Alto Center campus, opened to patients in October 2010.
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