Avon’s Breast Health Outreach Program: Providing Support to Community-Based Breast Cancer Programs Across the Country

Since 2000, Avon’s Breast Health Outreach Program (BHOP) has supported more than 250 community-based, non-profit breast health programs across the U.S. These agencies have made a significant impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of women in need of breast cancer screening services.

We sat down with Kathryn Gates-Ferris, AVON BHOP Project Director and Tegan Culler, AVON BHOP Project Deputy Director to learn more about how the initiative is changing the lives of underserved individuals across the country.

  1. Tell us about the BHOP effort overall.  When was the program created? 

In underserved communities, there are often a number of barriers to accessing breast health care.  Many individuals are unaware of the need and importance of regular mammography screening, or are fearful of knowing the results based on the experiences in their families and communities.  Practical barriers are also a major issue – costs of transportation and childcare, ability to take time away from work and lack of insurance also prevent many women from getting vital preventive care.

In 1993, the Avon Foundation for Women responded to these needs by developing a partnership with CAI and the Young Women’s Christian Association of the U.S.A., more commonly known as the YWCA.  Together, these organizations created EncorePlus, a program focused on the prevention and early detection of breast cancer. Based directly in underserved communities, YWCA staff conducted community outreach and connected individuals to care.

Based upon the success of the EncorePlus program, Avon decided to expand the funding opportunity to include additional community and hospital-based organizations across the country. By 2008, the Avon BHOP program was providing grants each year to almost 150 programs in just about every state in the U.S.

  1. Can you give an overview of the different organizations that are part of BHOP and their specific initiatives/goals?

The earliest research conducted on patient navigation focused on community-based organizations and their ability to provide underserved women with access to breast cancer screening. Situating these programs in the community made a measurable difference in the number of women who accessed screening.

Given these findings, BHOP is community-based so that we could reach the most underserved women directly in their communities. To date, grantees have included YWCAs to community-based groups, clinics and a few hospital systems. From the very beginning, we have always tried to support grassroots organizations with small operating budgets, as they are often most deeply involved with their communities and are able to reach those who need breast health care the most.

  1. Can you talk about how you support the BHOP programs in achieving their goals?

Our philosophy from the very beginning is that the Avon BHOP Coordinating Center is a partner working side by side with grantees to help improve access to breast cancer care and support. We are here to help them succeed as much as possible. We see it as a two-way relationship: the grantees send us data about their progress but we, in turn, give them feedback, technical assistance and resources, as well as sending them data reports to help them monitor and achieve their goals.

We’ve found that grantees are also great mentors for one another. Often, we connect grantees so they can learn from each other and help solve the problems that their clients face.

To further these connections, we initiated a Community of Practice this year, which is an online meeting space where BHOP grantees can participate in discussions on topics of interest. Currently, it is a forum for participants to share their experiences, strategies, and best practices in patient breast health education.

  1. How have you seen BHOPs improving breast health outcomes across the country?

All of our grantees are dedicated to improving the health of those in their communities. They want to be a positive force in the lives of women who may not have access to preventive screening and treatment. They go wherever they need to, ensuring that no woman is left behind. They show up at laundromats, beauty salons, churches, schools and even at front doors. One grantee even has a golf cart that she drives around her community to find women to educate about breast health. And their dedication shows.

Since Avon BHOP’S inception, more than 1.5 million women have been navigated into breast cancer screening and more than 7 million people have received face-to-face education about breast cancer.

  1. Where do you see the BHOP effort going in the coming year(s)?

There is still an enormous need for screening and patient navigation.  Depending on changes in health policy, we may find that more women do not have access to care. However, even if government funded medical services are readily available, there is will always be a need for programs like BHOP that educate and navigate individuals into screening and care.

To learn more about the Avon BHOP program, visit http://avonbhop.org/.