Y-NH van offers cancer tests

Yale-New Haven Hospital medical professionals will soon be helping more Connecticut women stay healthy by screening for the early signs of breast cancer — all within the comforts of the local Stop and Shop parking lot.

The hospital’s mammography van, a 36-foot Airstream trailer, is equipped with its own power generator and necessary machinery and staff to perform mammograms. The Yale-New Haven Breast Center recently re-commissioned the van after six-months of repairs.

The mammography van program’s six-month hiatus was largely due to mechanical issues in the nine-year-old vehicle, said Shirley Pinette, the center’s manager. In addition, she said the van technologist retired, and the program had to train medical staff to operate both the van’s machinery and drive the trailer itself.

Pinette said the Breast Center received many complaints while the van was out of commission.

“We didn’t know how upset people would be when we took it offline,” she said.

Hospital spokesperson Katie Murphy said the van provides a beneficial service to Connecticut women who do not travel all the way to the hospital for the procedure. She said one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and this outreach service aids in earlier diagnoses, which have a higher survival rate.

“We’re happy it’s back in business, and we hope we can reach more women, save more lives,” she said.

The van is especially intended to make mammograms more accessible to the elderly, Pinette said. Local senior centers often give patients rides to the van when it is nearby, she said. Because the service is more convenient and less intimidating than getting a mammogram in a hospital setting, Pinette said the van sees patients who would otherwise forgo the procedure.

“They feel much more comfortable [here] than driving into New Haven,” she said. “People don’t feel like they’re ill or sick, but they want their annual mammogram.”

Pinette said the van’s patients are able to get through the mammogram procedure more quickly and receive greater individual attention than those who go to the hospital to be screened. The patient boards the van, goes over her clinical history with a staff member and is led directly into the adjacent mammogram room. The entire process, Pinette said, usually lasts no longer than 15 minutes, and the results are sent to the patient’s home in a week or less.

Barbara Judisch, business services coordinator for the hospital’s mammography department and the van’s scheduling coordinator, said the mammography van serves several regular patients, including University employees on the Yale Health Plan who can use the van during its visits to Lot 22 on Whitney Ave.

“For years we’ve gone over there twice a month. Now we’re going to go once a week,” she said.

Judisch said the van provides a valuable function for many women in the community, and some have been going to the van for years.

Some of the van’s stops this month include Lot 22 and the Stop and Shop supermarkets in Branford and Hamden, and appointments can be scheduled through the Yale-New Haven Breast Center.

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