WCH’s first Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening event is bridging gaps in healthcare

November 4, 2022

By Sam Pender

Last week, the Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers at Women’s College Hospital (WCH), in partnership with Taibu Community Health Centre, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre and The Olive Branch of Hope, hosted a Breast & Cervical Cancer Screening for Black Women event, which provided accessible cancer screenings to Black women in the community. The event was a huge success with 46 women attending to be screened.

The screening event aimed to start bridging some of the gaps in the healthcare system that exist for marginalized communities, including lower cancer screening rates among Black women due to systemic barriers, such as stigma, discomfort, fear and mistrust in the healthcare system. Using a culturally relevant and representative approach, the event removed some of those barriers and allowed Black women to be the focus of their own healthcare in a safe and supportive environment.

“The women who participated provided really heartwarming feedback about how much the event meant to them and how it created a safe and positive environment to get their screening tests done,” said Dr. Aisha Lofters, Scientist, Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) and one of the event leads. “They appreciated the non-clinical approach and one woman told me, ‘This is how Black women should be treated.’”

In addition to screening appointments and follow-up care, the event also provided mindfulness sessions, onsite social work support, refreshments and culturally relevant food, giveaway items and the opportunity for women to speak directly with clinicians. Transportation was also provided to all participants, and care providers and navigators were onsite as well to stay with patients throughout the experience.

In a post-event evaluation, the participants found the experience to be resoundingly positive: 97.6 per cent felt the event created a safe environment to undergo screening; 87.5 per cent felt empowered by the experience; 92.7 per cent felt an event specifically for Black women made them feel supported and heard regarding their health; and 100 per cent of respondents felt there should be more events tailored to supporting Black women in the healthcare system.

The event was tremendously meaningful to not only the patients who participated, but to staff who helped run it and provided support.

“As a racialized woman, working with an organization that is willing to step outside the healthcare comfort zone and challenge themselves to understand the care provision required to address the gaps for marginalized communities is just amazing,” remarked Janelle Noel, Service Coordinator, Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Care Centre (SA/DVCC), who helped run the event.

Other team members echoed Noel’s thoughts, with some saying they felt “a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing we could participate and contribute to the success of this amazing event, providing Black women with first-class patient access, care and service.” Others noted that the warm and welcoming approach resulted in increased comfort of patients who could then interact with clinicians and other patients, engage in the process and feel relaxed during an often stressful experience.

In speaking with patients who attended the screening event, Leonie Wizzard, Administrative & Patient Flow Supervisor with TAPMI and Crossroads Clinic, noted that many patients were “elated to visibly identify with staff entering the hospital, which provided a high degree of comfort and belonging,” and that the “atmosphere provided the opportunity to overcome the fear of being judged within a healthcare setting.”

The event was made possible by dedicated and compassionate organizers at WCH, including Dr. Lofters, Rumaisa Khan, Innovation Spread & Scale Lead, Peter Gilgan Centre for Women’s Cancers, and Elaine Goulbourne, Director, Clinical Resources & Performance, who worked closely with partner organizations to make the first Breast & Cervical Screening for Black Women event the success it was.

“If we can continue on this path to developing partnerships with other organizations, we can work closely together to ensure these communities feel seen and heard and know that the healthcare system is inclusive and desires to meet the needs of all people regardless of race, colour or creed,” said Leila Springer, CEO of The Olive Branch of Hope.

Numerous departments at WCH also came together to support the event, including IM/IT, Breast Centre, Gynecology, SA/DVCC, Bay Centre, Family Practice and other departments. Everyone involved was provided with a cultural sensitivity training session led by Suzanne Charles Watson, WCH’s Director of Anti-Racism, Equity and Social Accountability.

Going forward, event organizers hope this event will be a starting point for similar events in the future. “Given the tremendous and overwhelmingly positive feedback we received, we hope this event will be the start towards a broader conversation among partners and stakeholders to make this screening event and other similar events an ongoing initiative at Women’s on a yearly, semi-annual or quarterly basis,” said Goulbourne.