Donna Bernier recalls receiving an emotional call from a woman in the community who found a lump in her breast. The woman hadn’t seen a doctor in 20 years and needed a biopsy. Donna got her an appointment right away to alleviate her fears. Her care progresses under the watchful eye of her providers.
Another patient called Donna after her provider ordered her a mammogram. The patient was upset because she couldn’t afford the procedure. Donna assured the patient that she was eligible for a federal program that would cover the cost of her mammogram. The patient was incredibly relieved and thanked Donna immensely.
Donna, a registered medical assistant at Greater Seacoast Community Health, coordinates the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (BCCP), a federal program that covers cancer screenings as well as diagnostics and cancer treatment for eligible patients. She works with local organizations to spread awareness about the program. She also reaches out to patients who may not realize that they are eligible for it. She helps to calm the fears many patients have when they learn they need cancer screening.
“BCCP saves lives,” Donna said. “I’ve had many women cry on the phone. They’re so grateful.”
Making Prevention Accessible to All
New Hampshire has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the United States. Preventive screening is important to detect cancers earlier when they are typically easier to treat. However, obtaining cancer screening can be challenging for those who are uninsured or underinsured.
Greater Seacoast Community Health, which includes Goodwin Community Health and Families First Health & Support Center, offers BCCP as part of its mission of providing accessible care. Since 2018, BCCP has covered at least $1.2 million worth of breast exams and Pap smears for more than 5,000 Greater Seacoast Community Health patients.
Eligibility criteria include: being uninsured, having high deductible insurance, or having insurance that doesn’t cover these screenings, as well as financial hardship. The qualifying income threshold is 250% of the Federal Poverty Level – for example, an annual income of $36,450 or less for one person. BCCP is open to anyone who lives in New Hampshire or York County, Maine, regardless of whether or not they are a patient of Greater Seacoast Community Health.
Thorough and Compassionate Care
In her role, Donna does everything from processing applications to scheduling appointments and ensuring that billing information is correct. She also reminds patients when to re-enroll each year, and she reaches out to patients who are unable to attend appointments.
“It’s a lot of case management and detective work that involves following up with the patients as to why they aren’t able to attend appointments,” said Donna. “It could be transportation issues, which we may be able to help with.”
In the past two years, there has been a 15 percent increase in number of Greater Seacoast Community Health patients adhering to the breast cancer screening guidelines, which vary based on age and medical history. There has also been an increase in the number of patients adhering to the cervical cancer screening guidelines. These numbers are improvements, but they are not Donna’s focus.
“I don’t focus on the numbers when I am speaking with a patient,” she says. “They are individuals with a story to tell. When you treat a patient like a person and not a number, everything falls into place.”
For more information on BCCP, click here.
For more information on income guidelines, click here