MAILED: Sept. 30, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- Area women who are at high risk of breast and cervical cancer are getting assistance thanks to a state program run by the Eau Claire City-County Health Department in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's School of Nursing.
Low-income women, age 50 and over, who are uninsured or underinsured are eligible to participate in the Wisconsin Women's Cancer Control Program. The health department administers the program while UW-Eau Claire graduate nursing students, under the supervision of adult health nursing faculty, perform the breast, Pap and pelvic exams.
"We're talking about a group that is at-risk but have no means for getting health care," said Michaelene Mirr, professor of adult health nursing. "It's rewarding to participate. We see people who haven't seen anyone in a year so they have basic questions they need answered. It's rewarding and feels good to be able to take the time these people need."
The program is currently working with about 200 women in Eau Claire County, said Francie Peardon, coordinator of the Wisconsin Women's Cancer Control Program and a health educator for the health department.
"We're working to have these women get screened every year," Peardon said. "Screenings are done by various medical providers in the community. Ideally, we'd have all medical providers participating in the program for continuity of care but we're not there yet. However, by working with the university nursing programs, we are able to reach women we might not otherwise reach."
To qualify, a woman's household income must fall below a set level, she must be aged 50 or over, and the exam must not be covered under any insurance she might have in place, Peardon said.
"A woman could work full-time and still qualify," Peardon said. "She might have insurance with a high deductible or the policy might only pay for hospital care. Annual screenings are recommended to detect cancer at an early stage."
UW-Eau Claire nursing students benefit from the program by improving their exam skills as well as their understanding of the struggles of the uninsured and underinsured, Mirr said. Many graduate nursing students work in clinics where any test that is needed is ordered, she said.
"It's eye opening for them to see people who don't have that as an option," Mirr said. "Often they've never been in a situation where they had to make decisions regarding priority health care."
The graduate students gain confidence in their exam skills while they work in a supervised environment, Mirr said. As a result, the students are experienced with the procedures when they get into clinic settings, she said. In addition, Mirr said, the students get experience working with an older population.
Mirr and her students also participate in the Wisconsin Senior Aides Program. The federal program provides medical exams for people age 50 and over who are low-income and have been displaced from their jobs.
The two programs work well together because many of the women in the senior aides program are in need of the services provided by the cancer screening program, Mirr said. With the services provided all in one location at the university, it increases the chances that the women will go ahead with the necessary screening, she said.
Mirr and the students provide services to between eight and 10 senior aides program participants each month and about 10 women a year in the cancer screening program. In its fourth year, the cancer screening program is starting to attract more women as word gets out, she said. "The numbers are picking up because of how the programs dovetail," Mirr said. "And we're getting more and more repeats."
The programs are easy to enroll in and require little paperwork, Mirr said of other factors contributing to the programs' growing successes.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Sept. 30, 1997