Buddy Check 3: West Plains clinics go all out to take mammograms to more rural neighbors

Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 12:05 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Health care in West Plains has been expanding for years from a state-of-the-art hospital to primary care and specialty clinics. It’s on the southern border of Missouri, with a population of about 12,000. But it has a huge area to serve.

More than 160,000 people in multiple counties depend on West Plains for their medical care. Now the Ozarks Healthcare system has found a new way to help meet those neighbors’ needs, by taking mammogram screenings to the countryside.

Sharon Hedden sits on her front porch in Thayer, Missouri, close to the Arkansas border. She says she’s well acquainted with the people in her rural community. People like Sharon wouldn’t trade their peace and quiet for anything. But it comes with challenges, like having to drive for routine medical care. She says a lot of people don’t have ways of getting around, or people who can take them.

Glenda Kentner knows all about that challenge first hand. She’s been doing mammograms here at Ozarks Healthcare in West Plains for decades and works with state-of-the-art 3d machines. She worries about the women out in the country who miss routine screenings that could save their lives.

“It’s not like they are used to coming,” said Kentner. “We see a lot of people, they’re in their 50′s or 60′s and it’s their first mammogram. It’s just because it’s hard for them to get out and get here.”

Almost a year ago Ozarks Healthcare came up with a solution to that problem, a mobile mammography unit that could go into dozens of outlying communities.

“We did a little research and saw studies of some hospital systems over on the east coast of Appalachia that had bought mobile mammography units, and the success rate was very high,” Josh Reeves, Vice-President of Hospital Development, said. “We thought, given the demographics here, it would really fit what we were trying to do in West Plains and surrounding counties.”

But the mobile mammography van would cost $750,000. The first in the community to step up was the West Plains Bank and Trust Company with a quarter-million dollar donation, its most significant gift ever.

David Gohn, President CEO of West Plains Bank and Trust Company said, “breast cancer, in itself touches everybody, it touches our employees, it touches this community in the South-Central Missouri area, we want to do something to help detect that earlier, prevent it maybe.”

Since that first major donation, the mobile mammography unit has become a community-wide project. Most recently the West Plains Country Club Ladies Association devoted its golf tournament fundraiser to raising money for the mobile unit.

Marge Slayton and her husband have been long-time donors to Ozarks Healthcare and served on the hospital board. She was a driving force behind the golf tournament. She said, “it was fantastic...we had so much fun putting it together”

It’s a cause very near and dear to the hearts of Marge and Barry Slayton. Marge had breast cancer, her sister died from it, and then in 2014, Barry was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“This mobile unit is just a great opportunity to go to a location so these people can go there and get their mammograms,” said Marge Slayton.

“It also brings awareness to the entire community that even if they don’t use the mobile unit, they need to talk to their family physician, or in mens’ case, you know, they least need to be aware of something and just not slough it off as a non-event,” said Barry Slayton.

The golf tournament raised $25,000 for the mobile unit, rounding out a year full of fundraisers by businesses, school groups, medical professionals who work here, and a lot of personal donations.

“We knew people were very generous. We knew breast cancer touched a lot of lives here,” said The Vice-President of Development for Ozarks Healthcare, Josh Reeves said. “But people were passionate about it from the start.”

Community-wide support came up with three-quarters of a million dollars for Ozarks Healthcare to buy the mobile mammography unit. Great news for people like Sharon in communities like Thayer.

She said, “So that’s great, that’s coming closer. We appreciate it too. Whether you’re old, even young people would have a problem with working it into their work schedule, really appreciate it.”

Ozarks Healthcare expects its mobile mammography unit to be on the road by March. This reminds us of the importance of regular screenings to catch breast cancer in its earliest, most treatable stage. Don’t forget to sign up for Buddy Check 3 right here https://www.ky3.com/page/buddy-check-3/ so we can also remind each other to do that monthly self-exams.

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