Walking along Broadway on the Upper West Side on a Wednesday morning, Yvonne Ennis noticed the Mount Sinai Mobile Mammography van parked by the curb.
“This was very convenient,” said Ennis, 60, a home health aide from Queens on her way to work. “I just saw the van, asked a question, and ended up getting a mammogram.”
The Mount Sinai van serves women across all five boroughs almost daily, parking on the streets near partners like churches and clinics. After the last patient of the day, it returns to the hospital to transfer the screening data collected. Radiologists evaluate the scans, looking for signs of breast cancer, and tell patients their results by mail, phone or patient portal within a few days.
Though the van stopped operating in March during the COVID-19 shutdown, it resumed last month, though with some changes. It previously scheduled appointments with 15-minute gaps between each screening, but now that workers need at least 30 minutes to diligently disinfect surfaces, the staff can screen fewer patients. Instead of providing about 15 exams a day, the van staff complete at least 10.
But driver and patient services representative Monet Douglas said women still wanted mammograms. “We explain to them the steps we’re taking to keep them safe and once they go into the changing room, they can smell the disinfectant,” she said. “We were at capacity, and people were still asking to be screened.”
Laurie Margolies, chief of breast imaging for Mount Sinai Health System, says the van brings mammography into communities, allowing women to get tested in places they trust, eliminating barriers like referrals and prescriptions and reducing the anxiety some feel about breast cancer screening.
“One out of eight women in the U.S. will get breast cancer at some point,” said Margolies. “Of those, three out of four will not have a family history.”
Cozy but not cramped, the mobile unit keeps windows and doors open, creating ventilation that makes patients and staff comfortable in close quarters. It does indeed smell of cleaning products and carries a staff of three – the driver, a patient services representative and a mammography technologist.
Margolies and Jean Stenard, manager of the Mobile Mammography Program, applied for a state grant in 2016 under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $37.7 million “Get Screened No Excuses” initiative, which aims to increase access to breast cancer screening. The state awarded Mount Sinai the van, one of six and the only one in New York City, for at least five years and paid its operational costs, though this year state funding has declined by 20 percent.
New York State pays most of the van staff’s salaries; the grant and the hospital share the mammography technologist salary.
In 2017, Mount Sinai purchased the vehicle and worked on education and community outreach with organizations that later hosted the van for screening, said Stenard in an email. The van will begin its fifth year in April.
A woman who doesn’t have insurance but meets the age and income requirements can still get screened.
The New York State Cancer Services Program provides free screening and breast examination to uninsured state residents over 40 who meet income requirements. Uninsured women under 40 can be screened only if a health care provider deems them high risk.
Claire Mangum, 60, a new grandmother and Queens resident, called and made an appointment after a friend told her about the van. The next day, she had her screening.
“After 50, we have to take care of ourselves,” she said. “I want to live a long and healthy life.”
Mangum got her mammogram in Manhattan, on a Friday morning before work. The whole process, including preliminary paperwork and the screening, took half an hour. By the following Tuesday, she received results on the patient portal telling her she was in the clear.
“This is really convenient,” Mangum said.
(Photo of mobile van patient Yvonne Ennis by Hannah Flynn)