Targeting solutions to local health care needs — a tale of two communities

Targeting solutions to local health care needs — a tale of two communities
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Health care may be global, but reaching realistic health care equity often requires creative, tailored local solutions.

It’s pretty clear that not everyone has equal access to the latest medical advances and often to even basic health care.

There are many reasons including such obstacles as affordability, inadequate insurance, inconvenient proximity, insufficient information, poor transportation, or lack of knowledgeable health system navigators.


And despite countless dollars and time spent by various governmental, private, for-profit, non-profit, and academic entities on research, outreach, education, prevention, treatment, and infrastructure, many health care needs are still not being met today in the United States.

While it is always easy to point fingers at specific institutions or individuals for the failings of our so-called health-care system, it is often more effective to stitch together innovative collaborative solutions to take care of short-term health needs in a meaningful timely manner, while simultaneously seeking more sustainable long-term cures for health care disparities.

A number of recent examples come to mind in both the nation’s capital and the state of Arizona.

When a number of predominantly underserved African American women in Washington, D.C. were not receiving adequate screening for breast cancer by existing institutions, a coalition of health-care professionals, advocates, philanthropists, governmental agencies, and non-profit and corporate sponsors emerged to provide state-of-the-art screening and access to treatment if required in an easily accessible neighborhood setting. 

In the past three years, this effort at the Breast Care for Washington DC center has provided some 3300 mammograms resulting in detection of about 30 cases of breast cancer that might not have received adequate treatment otherwise.

In Arizona, the regional affiliate of Susan G. Komen was forced to close its doors earlier this year because of inadequate funds.

This action cut off revenue for necessary breast cancer treatment for a number of largely latina women without documentation or Medicaid eligibility who fell between the system’s cracks. 

And it also threatened loss of dedicated federal dollars for breast cancer screening dependent upon access to treatment. 

A collaborative effort spearheaded by the head of Arizona’s cancer control and prevention program together with interested individuals, non-profit organizations, and medical facilities throughout the state sought to come to the women’s short-term rescue through plans for fundraising and cost-sharing measures, while working on long-term sustainability programs.

And media coverage of this effort led Komen’s national office to rethink ways to help achieve this goal.

These actions are certainly not limited to cancer, but are models that can be adapted for all forms of health care disparities when tailored to identify appropriate partners to meet each community’s local needs.

And it is also important to ensure that non-profit medical centers are held accountable in fulfilling their charitable — and tax exempt — missions to see that no patient is left behind.

Nancy Brinker is a global cancer advocate and the founder of Susan G. Komen, the world's largest breast cancer charity name after her sister. She has also served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.'s World Health Organization. Find her on Twitter: @NancyGBrinker.

Eric Rosenthal is a longtime observer and chronicler of issues, controversies, and trends in health care, especially in cancer, and was founder of the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Network. Find him on Twitter: @etrosenthal.