Hurlbert zeroes in on two key factors that interfere with treatment. First, not all hospitals are created equal. If a woman in an underserved community goes to a local hospital that doesn’t have the funds or the pedigree to attract highly skilled breast-cancer specialists, her care may suffer greatly as a result. Second, if her work schedule is demanding and taking time off for appointments means she doesn’t get paid, she may skip crucial sessions. When you combine these factors, the growing mortality gap is easier to understand.
But there’s reason to be hopeful. In Memphis, TN, for example, mortality rates among African-American women with breast cancer decreased by 15% between 2005 and 2014, thanks to coordination among local healthcare partners — the screening centers, teaching hospitals, and insurance companies — in order to provide a “safety net of care” that helps ensure high-risk patients in at-risk communities or those without insurance don’t fall through the cracks.
Hurlbert says that in some hospitals across the country, women can wait weeks, and even months, just to get a mammogram, which has a ripple effect, delaying surgery and treatment if both are needed. Now, with a coordinated effort like the one in Memphis, hospitals are working together to get patients help faster.