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Driving the bus

Ascension Saint Thomas puts another mobile mammography unit on the road

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The technicians who run Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford’s mobile mammography clinics do it all.

They conduct thousands of mammograms annually in parking lots and other disparate locations in 26 Middle Tennessee counties. In the past decade, they’ve detected 95 instances of breast cancer. But they also drive the bus.

“These ladies drive it, they park it, they do your mammograms, and then they drive back,” says Jennifer Keaton, regional director of operations for the company.

The first practice manager for the program, established in 2011, got a commercial driver’s license so that she could drive the mobile clinic herself. The new mammographers who have come on have followed suit.

“They take such pride in what they do each day,” Keaton says. “Being able to drive it allows for them to encompass the practice as a whole.”

After 26,000 screenings in a decade with a single bus, the program is now expanding. In October, Ascension Saint Thomas launched a second bus, this one outfitted with new 3D technology. The plan is to double the number of screenings conducted annually to about 5,000, mostly in Middle Tennessee communities without easy access to brick-and-mortar facilities with mammography technology.

And they don’t just tally their impact by the number of mammograms conducted or the number of cancers detected. The buses themselves, wrapped with information about the program, serve as a billboard, reminding people to seek out a regular mammogram.

“41 feet of reminder is a big reminder,” Keaton says.

The health care providers set up shop in grocery store parking lots, housing complexes and workplaces — even at Nissan Stadium, where they conducted four mammograms during a Tennessee Titans home game in October.

“They said, ‘I just need to do it, and I keep putting it off, and I’m here, so let's just get it done,’ and then they went on with the rest of their day,” Keaton says of the patients.

For some who come through the clinic, it’s about convenience and ease of access. For others, it’s a necessary service because their communities don’t offer the proper facilities.

Earlier detection allows for treatment with better chances of a positive outcome. And if a cancer is detected, the mobile unit directs patients to specialists for further tests, as well as communicates with their primary care physicians.

In October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the buses are on the road to events nearly every day. During the rest of the year, the units are normally setting up shop five days a week somewhere in the 26 counties covered by the program. By adding a second unit, they can now be in two places at once, Keaton says.

“They’re not places where you’d think people would get their mammograms, but it goes back to convenience and ease of access and a reminder, and sometimes that's just what people need,” she adds.

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