Health Department’s BCCCP program offers life-saving services for women

Lauren Williams Staff Writer

October 4, 2013

First in a series

Orange is the hue typically associated with the month of October but women, locally and nationwide, are hoping that another color comes to mind as well — pink — because October is breast cancer awareness month. Awareness events, fundraisers, and marches will be taking place across the nation throughout the month in an effort to spread the word about the risks of breast cancer and how women need to be proactive in combating the illness that still alters many lives every year. Locally, many Sampson women are contributing to that effort by participating in the county’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) and its annual awareness rally.

BCCCP services

Under the umbrella of the Sampson County Health Department, BCCCP is “a federal and state funded program that offers services to women that meet certain financial and age criteria,” shared Kathie Johnson, R.N., Director of Nursing for the Health Department. “The services include physical exams, pap testing based on the ACOG guidelines, and mammograms that are provided at no cost to the woman.”

“Our target population is women 50 to 64 years old,” noted Health Department nurse Laura Kunzman.

“Studies done by the federal government found that women ages 50-64 were the least likely to receive medical services to prevent poor health outcomes,” Johnson added, explaining that “women in this age range were usually stay-at-home mothers with no insurance, single mothers with no insurance, and women with minimum wage jobs who could not afford insurance so they tended not to seek medical screenings and care.”

Along with targeting a specific age group, Kunzman shared that the Health Department is also focused on treating minorities with its services.

“Recent studies show that black women have a greater mortality rate when it comes to breast cancer,” said Kunzman, mentioning that the Health Department also wants to reach the local Hispanic and Native American populations. “They (researchers) think it may be because they’re not getting regular screenings. It can make a huge difference if it can be caught early.”

According to information provided by the Health Department, the financial criteria to qualify for the BCCCP program includes an income at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level and no or limited insurance.

For example, shared Johnson, if a woman has insurance but pays a $5,000.00 deductible then she may qualify to participate in the program. Women with Medicaid or Medicare do not qualify for the program since both providers cover the services.

As for age criteria, women need to be ages 50-64 to qualify for free routine mammogram services and 40-64 for to qualify for free routine pap testing services, continued Johnson. However, women outside of these age ranges may qualify for the program if they meet the financial guidelines and have specific medical problems, such as having a breast lump.

“In a county like Sampson, it’s kind of difficult not to qualify for the program,” said Johnson, adding that if a woman is unsure of her eligibility, Health Department staff will be happy to answer any questions. “We strongly encourage them to call us.”

In addition to these free screening services for those who qualify, Johnson shared that through the BCCCP program the Health Department also offers breast cancer case management.

“That’s when we help make sure that they’ve got a provider, that they have transportation, and we make sure they know about community resources,” said Johnson. “For example, if a breast cancer patient needs a wig, we can help with that. It’s about making sure that they have what they need to adequately deal with their cancer.”

Something that many women and medical providers may not be aware of but could really help those who are uninsured is BCCCP Medicaid that is offered by the state’s BCCCP program through the health department for women who are suspected to have breast or cervical cancer, stressed Johnson.

“There’s a catch though,” she pointed out. “To qualify for the Medicaid, the woman must have received BCCCP services through the health department prior to receiving an official cancer diagnosis. Therefore, we encourage medical providers who have clients they suspect of having breast or cervical cancer that do not have insurance to refer them to the Health Department to see if they qualify for BCCCP services before they proceed with any procedures that would provide a confirmed cancer diagnosis.”

Through its BCCCP program, and its services, the local health department hopes to accomplish numerous goals, said Johnson, including reducing the number of women that never receive a mammogram or pap test and reducing the number of women that die from breast cancer and cervival cancer each year.

BCCCP rally to inspire, raise awareness

One of the ways that the Sampson County Health Department is making strides in reaching those goals is by holding an annual BCCCP rally every fall to raise awareness about breast cancer, to show support for those who are fighting it, and to honor and remember those who have been challenged by it in the past.

Now in its 15th year, this year’s BCCCP rally is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 12, the same day as Clinton’s Court Square Street Fair and Barbecue Cook-Off, and is being sponsored by the Sampson County BCCCP Advisory Board, Sampson County Health Department, South River Electric Membership Corporation, and Sampson County’s United Way.

The rally will kick-off at 9:30 a.m. around the courthouse. From downtown, attendees will be accompanied by the Clinton High School Marching Band as they all march down McKoy Street toward Clinton Parks and Recreation to the Sampson Center Gym, located at 808 Barden St.

At the gym, there will be a health fair which will include motivational speakers, various information booths, incentives, door prizes, and free hot dogs for lunch.

“It’s such an inspiring time time,” shared Nettie Pernell, a 15-year BCCCP volunteer who lost her mother and her best friend from childhood to breast cancer. “It’s meant to inspire and encourage and to let others know about the resources that are available.”

“It’s all about awareness, education, and prevention,” she stressed, mentioning that she is also actively involved in Relay for Life and Susan G. Komen. “The last thing that women need is to be sitting and not knowing what to do and what resources are available to them. It’s about getting them to go and get a mammogram. That’s why I advocate about prevention and health. We need to let them know and be able to give them some direction.”

If you have any questions about the BCCCP program or rally, please contact the Sampson County Health Department at 910-592-1131, ext. 4214 or ext. 4240.

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Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at