Improving Access to Screening Resources for Uninsured and Underinsured Oregonians

Oregon resident Maria De Lourdes Navarro

"My community health worker helped guide me through the process," says Oregon resident Maria De Lourdes Navarro.

Oregon resident Maria De Lourdes Navarro was 3 years overdue for her breast cancer screening. The 59-year-old is a daily wage worker with no health insurance. In January 2020, a community health worker encouraged Maria to get the test done. The community health worker scheduled a free screening mammogram and helped Maria get transportation to the clinic.

Maria was one of the patients helped by Oregon’s ScreenWise program, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This program works to reduce breast and cervical cancer burden and health inequities in the state by providing free screening to women who are uninsured, like Maria. In 2020, ScreenWise partnered with Northwest Family Services to provide free breast cancer screenings for uninsured women in Oregon.

Northwest Family Services focused its efforts on Marion and Polk counties. Almost 15% of the residents in these counties have incomes below the federal poverty level. Many residents also struggle with transportation and speak little English, limiting their ability to get health care. These challenges may lead to many women being diagnosed with breast cancer at a late stage, when treatment options are limited.

Community Health Workers Connect with Women in Need

Northwest Family Services trained their community health workers to engage with the communities they serve. These communities include people from racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as immigrant and refugee populations. The community health workers connected with women on a personal level to gain their trust. They learned that problems such as language, transportation, and financial stress stopped women from getting screened. The community health workers helped them get the cancer screenings and care they needed.

These community health workers helped 191 women get cancer screening tests from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. They explained why breast cancer screening is important, arranged for transportation, and guided the women through the process. Northwest Family Services set up a tracking system to make sure no patients were missed. They followed each woman’s progress from her referral to her mammogram appointment. All the women showed up for their appointments.

Maria’s mammogram was not normal, so she was referred for follow-up and treatment right away. “This program is very important to our community,” she said. “We only have our daily wages and no other financial support. We have no health insurance, which prevents us from getting health care services.”