Tyler, Tx — The East Texas Medical Center Tyler has been selected to receive the Texas Hospital Association’s 2012 Excellence in Community Service Award in recognition of its highly successful East Texas Pin-A-Sister breast cancer awareness campaign. The award will be presented Feb. 13 at the THA 2013 Annual Conference and Expo in Austin.
“ETMC Tyler has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to improve the health of every member of its community, and this program ensures engagement in a unique and interesting way,” said Dan Stultz, M.D., FACP, FACHE, THA president/chief executive officer.
Regina Davis, director of ETMC’s Breast Care Center, became interested in developing a program like Pin-A-Sister after the local chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure released results of a study conducted in Smith County. The data revealed that African-American women in the community had significantly higher rates of breast cancer than other women. Worse, these women also tended to present with later-stage breast disease and had a much higher mortality rate.
“We are honored to receive this award, and we are excited to share the enthusiasm and results East Texas Pin-A-Sister has generated within our community,” said Elmer G. Ellis, FACHE, ETMC Tyler president/chief executive officer.
Part of the problem was the messaging. Traditional advertisements promoting mammograms rarely included a multicultural perspective; even when they did, they still weren’t enough to get women to go to the area’s three breast care centers.
“The church is the main cog of the African-American community, and that’s where we needed to go to launch a grassroots effort,” said Davis. “Black women simply weren’t going to come to our breast care centers.”
In 2010, ETMC Tyler launched its Pin-A-Sister program in Tyler. Modeled after a program in Chicago, the campaign uses a strategy that has long been successful in the African-American community: Get the church involved. Breast cancer survivors provide personal testimonies at their home churches through East Texas Pin-A-Sister. In addition, churches host Pin-A-Sister ceremonies in which participating women pin each other with pink ribbons and pledge to take better care of themselves by getting annual screening mammograms. To date, 6,500 African-American women in Smith County have been pinned.
Local pastors were happy to make time in their worship services for breast cancer survivors to share their stories with their congregations. Most of their members view social responsibility and racial uplift as part of their religious duty. The practice also effectively reached out to women who were unaware of the causes of breast cancer or the importance of early detection; apprehensive about getting a mammogram; or unaware of the existence of financial and emotional support. Those churches now provide materials for their congregants and help women take the pledge to get their first mammograms.
“Our role is to pull the information together and let these women know there are survivors,” said the Rev. Gregory Williams, pastor at Starrville Church of the Living God. “We are breaking down the stigma. We once thought the detection of breast cancer was a death sentence. That story is being rewritten.”
The success of East Texas Pin-A-Sister over the past three years has been remarkable. In its first year, the program far surpassed its goal of “pinning” 600 women, with about 2,000 women participating in pinning ceremonies. Of the 80 African-American churches in Smith County, 95 percent have conducted pinning ceremonies since the program’s inception.
Despite its success thus far, the program faces challenges. Although its staff collects participant information and has developed a database, outcome data can be difficult to quantify. Not all women participating in pinning ceremonies go to ETMC for their mammograms, and there is no central county registry for receipt of screening mammograms. Davis plans to build in data indicators, and bring on clerical support to follow through with patients and track their results.
Funding will continue to be a focus for Davis and her Pin-A-Sister colleagues. Initially, the ETMC Cancer Institute and the ETMC Foundation worked together to provide funding for the program. The Tyler chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure provided grants totaling $37,600 from 2010 through 2012. ETMC provided substantial additional funding by allocating staff and establishing a budget for additional materials and outreach. The total budget for the three years of Pin-A-Sister was approximately $75,000, and future funding is anticipated from similar grantors and partnerships.
“Our ETMC family will continue to honor and support the women and men of Texas who have devoted much energy, heart and time to this meaningful breast cancer project that is changing and saving lives,” said Ellis. “Each of us has a friend or family member who has been touched by cancer; for too many of them, the diagnosis came too late. With programs like East Texas Pin-A-Sister, many of those future tragedies can be avoided.”