If you park it, they will come.
With a twist on the popular catchphrase, Hamilton Health Sciences launched the first mobile cancer screening facility outside rural northern Ontario, last week.
The new 45-foot bus outfitted with a state-of-the-art digital mammography suite, two change rooms, exam room, a sitting area, Wi-Fi communications and full wheelchair accessibility begins serving the Hamilton area in the McQuesten neighbourhood. It is capable of providing breast, cervical and colorectal screening to under-serviced areas.
In his final event before retiring, Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre president Dr. Bill Evans said Wednesday’s announcement was a high point for his career.
“We’re stepping outside of the institution to meet people where they really are,” Evans said.
The goal of the project is to circumvent language, social, economic and cultural barriers in communities where statistics show people are not getting screenings.
“We are below even the low provincial rates,” Hamilton Health Sciences president Murray Martin said of the Hamilton-Niagara region. “This is the start of something that is going to make a huge difference.”
The Screen for Life Coach will spend its first few months outside the East Kiwanis Community Centre at 785 Britannia Ave., and then will move to other under-serviced areas in the region.
Michael Sherar, president of Cancer Care Ontario, said the Hamilton area has tremendous facilities for cancer treatment, but that’s not enough and cannot be the only focus of health care.
“We need to do more in preventing the disease. Screening the population saves lives. We have to detect it when there are more treatment options available,” Sherar said. “Getting more and more of the eligible population participating in screening is what this announcement is about. Participation rates are well short of what we need them to be.”
He said health care can not take a “one size fits all” approach, and bringing the service to communities will improve the region’s low rate of cancer screening. As people toured the fully outfitted cancer screening facility on wheels, staff were already booking appointments for women.
A similar mobile unit has brought breast cancer screening to more than 25 remote rural northern communities around Thunder Bay, from Marathon to Wawa.
The Hamilton Health Sciences bus is the second in the province and the first to have all three screening procedures available.
David Derbyshire of Wesley Urban Ministries credited local community workers for helping get the Screen for Life Coach to Hamilton, and specifically to the neighbourhood bounded by the Red Hill Valley to the east, Parkdale to the west, Queenston to the south and Barton to the north.
“We’ve been working to engage the people of McQuesten, to also connect them to the resources that exist in our community,” Derbyshire said.
He said the neighbourhood is among the northeast Hamilton communities that have a 21-year lower life expectancy than other parts of the city.
While other projects have educated the community on the importance of cancer screening, barriers to accessing those programs still exist.
“Once we’ve got the community motivated, where do they go? Getting to these places is very problematic. Today we have the answer to that. Today we have access to a state of the art facility,” Derbyshire said. “If you park it, they will come.”
Screen for Life Coach offers breast and colorectal screening services to women between the ages of 50 and 74 and cervical cancer screening for ages of 50 and 70.