Baptist hires disparity coordinator to address gap in breast cancer care between African-American and Caucasian women


MEMPHIS, Tenn., - Baptist announced today that Venecia Harris will serve as the mammography disparity coordinator for the hospital’s breast health program.

Harris will be instrumental in providing breast health education, including appropriate counsel about mammography screening, and making sure the hospital’s mobile mammography unit, the first of its kind in the area, continues to have a strong presence in medically underserved areas.

A 2014 report in The New York Times brought forth the disparity in breast cancer outcomes between black women and their white counterparts, which has led to an increased focus on how to make sure African-American women have access to appropriate screening, education and follow-up care.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among black women. According to a 2014 study by the Avon Foundation, black women in Memphis are more than twice as likely to die from breast cancer as white women, although more white women are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Lack of information, access to care and fear are all factors leading to the high death rates among black women, according to multiple sources.

“We are looking to close the gap in care and outcomes and provide African-American women with the tools needed to manage their breast health,” Harris said. “We want to meet women where they are, whatever their income or education level is, and help them understand how they can manage their breast health, including how they can access care.”

Her position is funded by a grant from the Avon Foundation for Women.

The Baptist Women’s Health Center’s mobile mammography canvasses the city, from civic centers, churches and businesses to the parking lots of grocery stores, to provide area women with a convenient way to get a mammogram. In 2015, staff on the mobile screened more than 1,700 women, including women who are underinsured or uninsured with assistance from funds from the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Breast Cancer Eradication Initiative.

The Baptist Women’s Health Center, a part of Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women, opened its doors in 1986 and is a full-service mammography and osteoporosis testing center. Providing many services not available elsewhere, such as seed localization, a less invasive and more patient-friendly method of removing hard-to-reach breast tumors; automated breast ultrasound for women with dense breast tissue; and the latest in 3-D technology, the Women’s Health Center is always evolving to meet the needs of area women.

About Baptist

One of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health care systems, Baptist Memorial Health Care offers a full continuum of care to communities throughout the Mid-South. In 2012, Baptist was ranked No. 2 among large employers and No. 23 overall nationally in Modern Healthcare magazine’s top 100 “Best Places to Work in Healthcare.” The Baptist system, which consistently ranks among the top integrated health care networks in the nation, comprises 16 affiliate hospitals in West Tennessee, North Mississippi and East Arkansas; more than 4,000 affiliated physicians; Baptist Medical Group, a multispecialty physician group with more than 500 doctors; home, hospice and psychiatric care; minor medical centers and clinics; a network of surgery, rehabilitation and other outpatient centers; and an education system highlighted by the Baptist College of Health Sciences. The Baptist system employs more than 14,000 people, and in fiscal year 2013, contributed $239 million in community benefit to the areas it serves. According to the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis, Baptist Memorial Health Care’s annual economic impact is estimated at more than $2.6 billion.