ROC the FUTURE INNOVATORS: United Memorial Medical Center

ROC the Future celebrates our employees’ best innovative ideas in action. Each ROC the Future project yielded important, measurable results for our health system, through innovation, cost savings, better patient outcomes or process quality improvement. This week, RRH is proud to honor the winning team from United Memorial Medical Center.

Breast and Prostate Cancer Peer Education Program (UMMC) right to left (top row): Sonja Gonyea, Jill Smith, Toni Mills, Lisa Franclemont, Laurie Thornley, (bottom row) left to right: Olga Edwards, George Way, Stephanie Hilt

A team at UMMC built upon a statewide initiative to bring health education to their community. They reached hundreds of people in the Batavia area and thousands within the county—where they live, work and shop—with a message to take advantage of health screening services.

The statewide program focused on people ages 50-74, using a peer-to-peer approach to encourage this population to seek screenings and have conversations with their doctors to help detect breast and prostate cancer early. Both types of cancers are highly treatable if detected early. At UMMC, the program was implemented by a team of health advocates who have far exceeded the objectives of the state’s program. For example, last year, the NYS goal was to reach and educate 500 people; the UMMC team exceeded that goal 4X, reaching 2,000 people. This year’s results are on the same path. The 2018 NYS goal is to reach 1,000 individuals, and to date, the team has already reached 1,800 people, with more than half of the year to go.

Impressive in their own right, the numbers don’t adequately reflect the impact made on community health as a whole through providing health education, dispelling myths, alleviating fears, breaking down barriers to care, and raising awareness about annual physicals and recommended screenings.

By sharing education and information in the community, the educators at UMMC act as navigators for health care services that may feel overwhelming. They open doors and remove barriers to access programs that people might not have known about otherwise.

Hearing this important message first-hand proved very effective, especially from the perspective of personal experience. For example, one health educator, Jill Smith, is a two-time breast cancer survivor herself. When she speaks to other women her age about the importance of screening for breast cancer, they listen because they know that she genuinely understands and cares. Another educator, Olga Edwards, speaks to farmworkers in Spanish, their primary language. George Way is also working on his conversational Spanish skills to communicate better with the people he interacts with.

Each peer-based interaction is a conversation about health, in comfortable, non-threatening surroundings. Instead of expecting people to travel to a hospital or clinic for health information, these educators have gone into their community to meet with people in their homes, at farm workplaces, community events, in churches and food pantries, even in line at the local Tim Hortons coffee shop, with impressive results that prove the value of peer-to-peer education.