A newly opened endoscopy suite at Salud Family Health in Longmont highlights the importance of longstanding partnerships between the University of Colorado Cancer Center and community stakeholders in supporting underserved populations who otherwise might not receive vital cancer screening services.
The Colorado Cancer Screening Program (CCSP), directed through the CU Cancer Center and partially funded by the Cancer, Cardiovascular and Chronic Pulmonary Disease Grants Program, has partnered with Salud Family Health Centers for almost 20 years. With more than $1 million in financial support, the CU Cancer Center has invested in patient navigation, transportation assistance, eldercare and childcare, endoscopy equipment, and other initiatives serving low-income, underinsured and uninsured populations.
The new endoscopy suite, established in the existing Longmont Salud clinic, will allow clinicians to work toward a goal of performing more than 500 colonoscopies each year for patients who are low-income, underinsured, or uninsured.
Pradeep Dhar, MD, chief medical officer of Salud Family Health Centers (left), and Hans Elzinga, MD (right), in the new endoscopy procedure room of the Longmont Salud Family Health clinic.
“Over the past 20 years, the CCSP has been instrumental in supporting Salud’s ability to provide the highest quality screening services for colorectal cancer,” says Tillman Farley, MD, longtime medical director for Salud Family Health Centers and associate clinical professor of family medicine in the CU School of Medicine. “Because of CCSP, Salud was able to purchase a number of endoscopes that have allowed us over the years to provide thousands of colonoscopies to low-income and uninsured people who would otherwise not have access to this important screening modality.
“We have uncovered many early-stage colon cancers among our patients. Without CCSP funding, these cancers would likely not have been caught until they were much more advanced and much more difficult and expensive to treat. Because of CCSP, Salud has been able to make a dent in the significant health disparity in excess colorectal cancer deaths in the population we serve.”
The endoscopy suite has been in the works for several years, though the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected plans, says Linda Deeming, Longmont Salud Family Health director. “COVID delayed patients being screened, so now more and more patients are needing to be screened and the hospital can’t do all the screening,” she says. “We’re only the third federally-qualified health center to do something like this, and the only one with a model that, with grant funds, can be self-sustaining.”
Hans Elzinga, MD, a family health physician at the Longmont Salud Family Health who was instrumental in establishing the endoscopy suite, adds that colorectal cancer is highly preventable “but that’s only if you can afford to get screening done. The average cost of colonoscopy in the United States is $3,000, and that doesn’t include lab work or anesthesia.”
With CCSP support, as well as support from the Joseph Russo Foundation, the Denver Broncos Foundation, the American Cancer Society, and other partners, Salud Family Health has been able to create an endoscopy suite that includes a procedure room and three pre- and post-procedure rooms.
Hans Elzinga, MD, outside one of the three pre- and post-procedure rooms in the new Longmont Salud Family Health clinic endoscopy suite.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to serve patients who may not be able to get care otherwise,” says Rya Pagliughi, nurse manager of the endoscopy suite. “We’ve assembled an amazing team of nurses, technicians, and patient navigators who are committed to ensuring colon cancer doesn’t disproportionately impact the populations we serve.”
Financially supporting navigator and provider training has been one of the vital ways that CCSP has partnered with Salud Family Health, says Andrea Dwyer, CCSP director at the CU Cancer Center, as well as providing funding for scopes.
“We’ve supported barrier reduction and patient navigation all along, as well as supporting patients getting screened and treated in the earlier years of our partnership,” Dwyer says. “With CCSP funding, Salud has helped directly navigate more than 6,000 patients into screening. Now we’re focusing on patient navigation and helping patients get to exams, providing the support needed to make that happen.”
The potential to save lives
The new endoscopy suite was dedicated Dec. 2 and clinicians began performing colonoscopies Dec. 7, aiming to make an immediate dent in Salud’s backlog of 1,400 patients who need a colonoscopy but may not be able to afford one outside of Salud.
The endoscopy procedure room in the new Longmont Salud Family Health clinic endoscopy suite.
Salud established the Butt Savers Program to allow people to donate to offset the cost of colonoscopies, and offers the screening to patients on a sliding income scale.
“The need for these suites is overwhelming and only continues to increase,” Elzinga says. “We have the potential to save lives and help address significant inequities in health care.”