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Contra Costa County Offers Free Breast Exams for Uninsured Women


The Pittsburg Health Center will be offering free breast exams to uninsured women today from 5 to 7 p.m.  The event is a part of a larger initiative by the Contra Costa Health Services department for National Breast Cancer Awareness month.

According to the CCHS website, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women.  The National Cancer Institute also states it is the leading cancer among Asian and Pacific Islander women.  Nearly a quarter of the population of El Cerrito is Asian or Pacific Islander.

While some staff members who work at the event are paid, many doctors, nurses and community organizers volunteer their time in an effort to reach out to the community.  At each event, uninsured women are offered a breast screening.   Beverly Frazier, the charge nurse at the Pittsburg Health Center, said further steps can be taken if necessary.

“If there’s any additional like mammograms or ultrasounds that need to be done based on that free exam, that will be arranged for them,” said Frazier.

Oncology clinical nurse specialist Marianne Bunce-Houston has been helping to organize the event for the last four years.  She said the exams have had great success in early detection.

“We always catch people who have breast cancer and they wouldn’t have known otherwise,” she said.

Every year, the county health services deliberately target uninsured women.

“Sometimes people are lost, they lost their job and their insurance and they don’t know what to do,” said Bunce-Houston.

Financial counselors are on hand to talk to women and see if they qualify for a free insurance program like Medi-Cal. Bilingual services will also be offered, and Frazier said that the majority of patients who attend the free screenings are Hispanic.

In addition to the exams, the Pittsburg center offers free expanded gynecological and breast health services for women with developmental and physical disabilities.

The Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez held the first free breast exam even last Wednesday.  Sue Dickerson, a chemotherapy nurse who has participated in these events for the last ten years, said they had an unusually low turnout this year.  Only ten women showed up, compared to the forty women who participated last year.  Dickerson hopes attendance will increase at the other locations.

Frazier said last year’s event at Pittsburg’s Health Center also had a low turnout, which she said might have been a result of having the free clinic in an upstairs section of the health center. This year, the event will be held at the Women’s Health Clinic, which is on the first floor of the East side of the building.

“We’ve been kind of trying to saturate and put out a lot of flyers,” Frazier said. “We’ve had really good turnouts (in the past), so I’m hoping that we have a really good turnout this year.”

Some people leaving the Pittsburg Health Center today were unaware of the free exams, but said they were in favor of them.

“I have free services through the clinic,” said Linda Scott. “That’s a good program, I think, for people who can’t even get this.”

“I think that it’s really good to offer the exam for people that don’t have health insurance,” said Brandi Archamede, “because somebody who might have breast cancer and not know it, it could possibly prolong them not taking care of their health.”

The next free breast exam event is scheduled for Oct. 28 at the Richmond Health Center from 5 to 7p.m.

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