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Program That Tripled Cancer Screenings for Women in Rural Texas Loses State Funding

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
A recovery room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center.

A program that helped women in rural parts of Texas navigate the state’s complicated health care system is being phased-out next year.  That’s even though a new study out of UT Austin shows the program helped increase breast and cervical cancer screenings in those areas.

In 2012, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service received funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to run the Friend to Friend Program in 40 rural Texas counties.

Rosa Guel was part of a Friend to Friend program that focused on areas in South Texas. She says they taught women the importance of cancer screening and then helped them find a way to get those services.

She says the program incorporated cancer education through gatherings, called “pink parties,” and a voucher system that directly pays for health care. Guel says it became really popular among a population of mostly low-income women in isolated parts of the state.

“Once they found out that we were giving out vouchers, they were coming out in droves,” Guel recalled. “I’ll give you an example, just in Hidalgo we had an event this year in February and we had 250 ladies come that event.”

And new research published in the Journal of Cancer Education shows this was a very effective program.

Derek Falk, a doctoral candidate at UT Austin, studied Friend to Friend and the state’s patient navigator program.  

“The big takeaways from this study primarily show that you can increase the rates of breast and cervical cancer screening by using patient navigation,” he said.

Falk says these community-based patient navigation programs helped people find their way through a really complicated and fragmented health care system. His study found there was an almost threefold increase in the likelihood of obtaining both mammograms and Pap screenings among women who were put in contact with a navigator.

“And basically that allows quicker times to diagnosis, and then this case to cervical and breast cancer, and quicker treatment times and things like that, which we know are factors to health disparities,” Falk explained.

Guel says at one point thousands of women were turning to them for help, But when they asked for another round of funding from CPRIT, they didn’t get it.

Right now, Guel says the patient navigators are tying up loose ends with the last batch of clients, but they will only be working through February 2017. Guel says her understanding is that CPRIT was focusing more of its funding on directly funding services.

Guel described the situation as both “frustrating" and "disappointing.”

“We are no longer going to be able to help these ladies that have finally received some type of medical care," she said. "They are on their own again."

Chris Cutrone, a spokesman for CPRIT, said in a statement the group was up against a competitive application process.

“CPRIT receives many more applications than it has funds to award each year,” he said. “This was one of the most competitive cycles for prevention grants, with more than 40 applications received. The Friend to Friend program’s application for renewal was not recommended for funding by CPRIT’s peer review panel. They have another opportunity to resubmit their application by March 2, 2017.”

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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