Women Left Waiting For Cancer Screenings After Milwaukee Health Department Stopped Providing Services

The 19th Annual Susan G. Komen Southeast Wisconsin Race for the Cure Series kicked off at the Milwaukee Art Museum last September.(Photo: Michael Sears/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)Buy Photo


More than 100 women were left waiting for breast and cervical cancer screenings after the City of Milwaukee stopped providing those crucial services earlier this year.

Some of those women had symptoms such as lumps in their breasts, or reported pain or burning sensations, according to documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel through an open records request.

The wait list had grown to about 110 women by last month, a Milwaukee Health Department staffer recently warned members of the Common Council.

Problems with the city's Wisconsin Well Women program are the latest to hit the troubled Health Department, which has been reeling after reports it failed to prevent lead poisoning among Milwaukee children.

Lisa Phillips, manager for the city's program, told members of the Finance and Personnel Committee at a June 13 meeting that clients were no longer being served at the city's Southside Health Center. Women were instead being sent to other facilities such as Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and St. Francis Hospital, she said.

"When we're not able to provide services at Southside, the care is fragmented," Phillips testified.

The wait list, which was started in April, grew to about 110 women in two months, Phillips said during that meeting. 

The Well Woman program provides cancer screenings and other services to women with little or no health insurance coverage. The program pays for mammograms, pap tests and cervical cancer screenings for high-risk women as well as other tests.

"Early detection is so critical," Ald. Michael Murphy said. "So two months can mean a big difference in a person's life."

Many of those left waiting were low-income women, he said.

"I think we need to figure out what is going wrong in that program and why we can't get this resolved," Murphy added.

He said services had been disrupted for four of the first six months of the year.

The drop-off in crucial cancer-screening services was linked to a contract with provider Healthfirst, which ended in January. As the Journal Sentinel reported last week, that contract ending also disrupted the city's family planning services.

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During that June meeting, Interim Health Commissioner Patricia McManus said it was the state's decision to end the contract with Healthfirst.  

A spokeswoman for Department of Health Services said state officials work to ensure women have access to screening services.

"The City of Milwaukee Health Department makes decisions regarding subcontractor arrangements in consultation with DHS," said Elizabeth Goodsitt, a DHS spokeswoman.

McManus was not available for an interview Tuesday, Health Department spokeswoman Janalle Goosby said in an email.

The department resumed cancer screenings on June 19, Goosby said.

She initially said the current wait list is now at 57, but then clarified that there is actually no one currently on the waiting list.

"The number of 57 is the number that are already scheduled to be seen," Goosby said.

Asked about the reason for the delay, she said: "Services for breast and cervical cancer screenings were halted when Healthfirst notified the City of Milwaukee Health Department that they were terminating their contract, effective January 1, 2018." 

Murphy expressed concern that women were left waiting, noting that many of them are low-income and "the most vulnerable" because they don't have other choices for treatment.

"It's shocking," Murphy said. "We need to get the Health Department in shape, because right now the community is suffering as a result of bad decisions."

Murphy said poor management at the agency was to blame.

"Healthfirst got dropped out of the mix and there was no planning to have anything in place to replace it," Murphy said. "It's just basically poor management."

Family planning — which aims to help people avoid unintended pregnancies with contraceptives and other services — had been provided at two city clinics, the Southside Health Center and Keenan Health Center. Family planning services stopped altogether at the Southside Health Center, and family planning services were reduced at Keenan.

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Source : https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/politics/2018/07/10/women-left-waiting-cancer-screenings-after-city-programs-stalled/764587002/

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