The Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center (HRRMC) Foundation has announced that it was recently granted another five-year Women’s Wellness Connection (WWC) grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) through its Cancer Prevention and Early Detection program.
This program is utilized to educate women on the importance of cancer prevention and to help navigate them to complete annual cancer screenings for cervical and breast cancers.
The grant supports outreach throughout an 8,000 square-mile region, including Chaffee, Lake, Custer, and Saguache counties, as well as the areas of western Fremont, South Park, and Del Norte. The grant also provides free cancer screenings, including mammograms, for women who qualify financially.
The WWC team includes Community Health Coordinator Melanie Critelli; part-time Nurse Outreach Coordinator Julia Fritz; and HRRMC Foundation Director Lezlie Burkley, who manages the grant. HRRMC Vice President of Providers and Clinics Heather Roberts and Director of Clinical Services Lara Larson provide clinical support for the grant, helping women in the region receive cancer screenings in HRRMC clinics throughout the region.
These HRRMC clinics include the Buena Vista Health Center in Buena Vista, Colo.; Salida Health Center and Outpatient Pavilion, both in Salida, Colo.; Saguache Health Center in Saguache, Colo.; and Custer County Health Center in Westcliffe, Colo. The hospital in Salida also sees patients for mammography exams and procedures.
Over the past five years, the WWC grant has reached thousands of women and has helped many of them access preventative health screenings, make prevention a priority, find peace of mind and receive emotional and financial support to ensure cancer screenings. Through these screenings, several women have detected cervical and/or breast cancer, and ultimately, these women’s lives were saved through the WWC grant’s ability to detect cancer and help women receive free treatment.
“The purpose of the WWC grant is to create awareness and access to women’s preventative health screenings throughout the state of Colorado,” explained Critelli. “In our region, that means helping women overcome access barriers which may include long travel distances, and helping them with scheduling and paperwork, which can be difficult to manage.”
There are multiple reasons women put off screenings, including seasonal workers who do not have a primary care provider (PCP). Additionally, not all employers provide healthcare benefits, or if they do, deductibles can be high and create obstacles to women making appointments.
Financial issues and cost of living are also significant challenges. “Early detection of breast and cervical cancers saves lives, and the WWC grant helps reduce financial and transportation barriers for better access to preventative screenings,” said Fritz. “It’s hard to prioritize screenings when there are so many competing priorities, like affordable housing, the cost of food, childcare issues, or unfamiliarity with the healthcare system. We make it as easy as possible for women to take care of themselves.”
“In the next five years, we want to continue to intensify outreach to the communities in our region and make screenings easier to complete,” said Burkley. “We continue to build relationships with key people in each community so that our presence is consistent and women make prevention and treatment a priority. CDPHE is very happy with our program, and we reach counties and communities they otherwise could not reach – counties that have the highest cancer rates in the state and some of the lowest preventative screening rates. CDPHE has asked our team to be mentors to other programs in Colorado. We are excited to help share and learn from each other.”
For more information about the WWC grant, contact Melanie Critelli at 719-530-1065 or Julia Fritz at 719-650-4450 to set up a personal conversation or to schedule a meeting for a presentation.