Over the last seven years, employees at St. Luke Community Healthcare in Ronan have helped Mission Valley women receive screenings they need.
Through the St. Luke Employee Giving Program, $81,668.40 have been cycled through the mammogram program.
That total includes screening mammograms, MammoPad breast cusions and funds donated to the digital mammography machine.
“Employee Giving does quite a bit for the hospital,” Dian Hickethier, head mammographer at St. Luke’s, said.
For the mammography department in particular, she said that the program has allotted 75 free mammograms a year.
Once hired at St. Luke’s, employees are asked if they’d like to donate any amount of hours per pay period to the giving program, Hickethier said.
The money generated by the program is spread across various departments for patient healthcare.
Perhaps one of the larger benefits awarded by the giving program is how it helps make the mammogram process a little easier and more comfortable with the MammoPads.
Hickethier explained that single-use pads placed on the machine are more than $5 a piece.
The foam pad covers the bottom plate of the mammogram.
“It’s two hard surfaces pressing the breast out,” she said, adding that since breast tissue is dense with a lot of nerve endings, the mammogram machine can be uncomfortable for most women.
The pad helps alleviate the pressure feeling, allowing the technician to take time during the process.
The cushions are latex-free and hypoallergenic.
Hickethier said the hospital processes about 1,000 mammograms a year.
To accomodate those who work business hours, staff can perform mammograms until 8 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“It allows (patients) to go home, find babysitters… because it’s easier at night than it is during the day,” Hickethier said.
The “huge relief” of offerning evening mammograms allows more patients access to the screening, she added.
The Employee Giving program has also helped offset the cost of a mammogram for those without insurance, which costs $165 plus a reading fee at St. Luke’s.
Hickethier said that typically, a mammogram is completed in about 15 minutes.
She, however, takes her time, usually spending about 30 minutes with patients.
“We can do education, which in my book, is huge.”
Hickethier covers self-breast exams during that half hour, and uses teaching prosthetics to explain what different lumps in breast tissue mean.
Hickethier said that she believes employees donate to the giving program because they know that the cause helps the community. “They know the programs (patients) use are worthwhile.”
Certain disciplines may not allow for people to donate time and resources in the community, so this is a way for hospital staff to do so, she said.
Sometimes patients want to thank hospital employees once they’ve benefitted from the giving program, and Hickethier said she’s told them to thank anyone they see.
Lake County has higher rates for breast cancer than the national average, Hickethier said.
Typically, the positive biopsy rate is around 33 percent, but out of the mammograms her department performs, about 40-50 percent are positive.
That rate varies each year, she added.
One possible factor into the elevated number is a higher Native American population, in which breast cancer is more prone, Hickethier said.
There have been male patients who have tested postive for breast cancer, but Hickethier said that those patients had prior health issues that contributed.
For a mammogram, Hickethier said a patient does not need a referral, but a doctor is needed for her to correspond about diagnoses and treatment, as well as other information in a followup conversation.
Forty is the standard age to start mammograms, but if an immediate family member has had breast cancer, people should get to a doctor sooner.
“When you call for your mammogram, let us know of your history” so that medical personnel can help decide if a person needs the screening.
If someone is unsure they need a mammogram, Hickethier said the best thing to do is call the mammogram department.
There are programs available to those without insurance, but patients also need to disclose any and all information they can so that personnel can help.
“Start by asking questions. Ask questions; see what’s out there,” Hickethier said.