Reaching Underserved and Uninsured Women One Household at a Time

    • October 16, 2015

Originally posted: May 25, 2015
Last updated: October 7, 2015

Position at time of the award: Chief executive officer and executive director, Women's Breast Health Initiative; Miami Lakes, Fla.

Current position: Chief executive officer and executive director, Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative; Miami Lakes, Fla.

Raising awareness of breast cancer among uninsured women. A successful real estate agent in Miami, Andrea Ivory had been searching for a way to lead a more fulfilling life. The opportunity came in an unexpected package: a diagnosis of breast cancer. The grim news, she said, was her "aha" moment.

Instead of succumbing to the disease, Ivory beat it back—and has gone on to help countless other women target and fight it, too. Ivory realized that she was successful in her own battle against breast cancer because she had access to doctors who detected it early and insurance that covered the expensive treatments.

During the difficult process, she wondered about the fates of the many women who are not as fortunate and decided she wanted to help them.

Putting her real estate skills to use, she mapped out neighborhoods and identified homes least likely to have access to health care. She and her friends began knocking on doors and dropping off literature about breast cancer awareness.

Volunteers from Ivory's Women's Breast Health Initiative in Miami Lakes, Fla., began to knock on more than 10,000 doors each year to educate women about breast cancer and early detection and how to receive low- or no-cost mammograms. A volunteer coordinator visited every college campus in the South Florida area to oversee some 4,000 volunteers. And the initiative reaches more women through a breast-cancer prevention website, www.b4pink.com. After conducting outreach in a particular neighborhood, a mammography van circles back to provide free breast cancer screenings. The organization does all this without the help of federal, state, or local government funding.

Winning a Community Health Leader Award. For developing a grassroots education and outreach program for women at risk of breast cancer, Ivory has been named one of 10 recipients of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Community Health Leaders Award. The award honors exceptional men and women who have overcome significant obstacles to tackle some of the most challenging health and health care problems facing their communities. Ivory received the award during a ceremony in Baltimore, Md., on November 9.

Ivory's project is an unqualified success. Statistics show that it typically takes 1,000 mammograms to identify two to four breast cancers; the Women's Breast Health Initiative has diagnosed women at twice the national rate. "We are reaching women who are at higher risk, and they tell their friends and family about early detection," Ivory said. "When we detect breast cancer early, it's better for everyone."

Mayate Cordones, a former reporter who in 2011 was a Women's Breast Health Initiative board member, praised Ivory's dedication.

"What Andrea has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous," Cordones said. "Her vision quickly evolved into a tangible community outreach program uniquely designed to reach uninsured or underserved women, one household at a time."

Postscript. In 2013, the organization expanded its focus and changed its name to the Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative to reflect national concern over heart disease as the leading cause of death in American women. Now, in addition to offering mammograms, women receive blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol screenings as well as nutrition information on healthy eating to reduce risk factors for both diseases. The organization also is integrating more wellness and prevention strategies into its intervention.

RWJF perspective. The Foundation recognized the first 10 RWJF Community Health Leaders in 1993—unsung and inspiring individuals who work in their communities, often among the most disenfranchised populations, to address some of the nation’s most intractable health care problems. The last round of leaders was chosen in the fall of 2012. The program closed at the end of 2014. For more information on the program see the Special Report.