We Care of Central Florida’s Project Think Pink Helps Uninsured Women Get Screening, Treatment
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Did you know that one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime? Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women and the second-leading cause of cancer death among women. Men can also suffer from breast cancer, though it is much more rare.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which makes it a perfect time to remind women to get important health screenings such as mammograms. Unfortunately, not every woman in Central Florida has the insurance or resources to be able to get these screenings done. That’s where We Care of Central Florida steps in to help. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to helping those without insurance who fall within 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines get the healthcare they need.
One program offered by We Care of Central Florida is Project Think Pink. The mission of Project Think Pink is to provide free mammograms and other diagnostic breast care services to a population that would not otherwise be able to afford such care. They serve Polk County residents who have no insurance of any kind, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the Polk Health Plan, and who fall within the financial guidelines.
We talked to Shana Santiago, director of operations at We Care of Central Florida, to learn more about what this wonderful organization does. Santiago has 20 years of experience in the medical field and worked at a free clinic before coming onboard with Project Think Pink four years ago. Heather Stephenson has been the chief executive officer for the past two years, coming from Samaritan’s Touch Care Center in Sebring.
Project Think Pink is currently funded by an indigent health care grant that comes from the county’s half-cent sales tax initiative. It also receives a grant from the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. The Del Webb Community in Davenport is also a major contributor, hosting an annual fundraiser in February called “Save the Sweethearts.” Barbara’s Centre for Dance in Winter Haven does an annual fundraiser in the form of a ballet show. Winter Haven’s All American Charity Riders supports Project Think Pink through an annual poker run.
“All of the money that is donated to us is used only for residents of Polk County,” Santiago explains. “In Polk County, there is no other free breast care service.”
About 200 people receive services through Project Think Pink every quarter, totaling between 800 and 900 patients per year.
Project Think Pink offers all breast care services. Patients are referred to the program from their primary care physicians, usually coming from area free clinics. After receiving a manual exam from their regular doctor, patients are referred to Project Think Pink for annual screenings like mammograms. If doctors detect an area of concern, the patients are sent for a diagnostic ultrasound. Depending on their family history, they may receive an MRI.
“If anything comes up from the mammogram, we will also do the biopsies for them,” Santiago says.
If it turns out that a patient needs further care, Project Think Pink is partnered with Moffitt Cancer Center to provide any treatment patients may need after the initial diagnostics. Patients are screened and get assistance registering with Moffitt’s charity program. Project Think Pink is dedicated to helping patients get the treatment they need by helping them transfer their medical records and get into the programs that will help them. The goal is to be an ally for patients, so they don’t feel abandoned when they need help.
Radiology and Imaging Specialists and Winter Haven Women’s Hospital are also partners in Project Think Pink. These two organizations do all of the facility services for clients of Project Think Pink. There are three locations so that patients can get care in their area, which aids in limiting transportation issues. There are also two surgeons who help out.
Santiago is proud to report that in the four years that she has been serving Project Think Pink, she has only had to refer about three patients to their services. This success is due to the fact that the program is able to do early detections, which lead to smaller biopsies and more effective treatments.
While patients primarily are referred from local free clinics, there are also some patients referred from private practices who self-pay. They must meet the criteria of being uninsured, under 200 percent of the poverty level, and a resident of Polk County.
For more information, head to the project’s website at wecarecentralflorida.org/project-think-pink/
If you or someone you know meets these guidelines and is in need of breast care services, talk to your physician about a referral to Project Think Pink. It could make a world of difference.