One of the strongest weapons in the fight against cancer is early detection. However, for community members without insurance, cost can be an insurmountable barrier to lifesaving preventive care.

To help overcome these barriers, in 2015 Fairview Southdale Hospital and Fairview Ridges Hospital offered free colonoscopies and prevention education to uninsured Latino community members. Latinos have the highest uninsured rate of any racial or ethnic group in the country, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, putting them at an especially high health risk.

Taking initiative

The Latino Colon Cancer Prevention Project grew out of Fairview Southdale Hospital’s 2012 Community Health Needs Assessment. The study found the local Latino community faced many challenges in accessing health care, including lack of health insurance and language or cultural barriers when interacting with health care staff.

Based on those needs, in 2014 Fairview Southdale’s Endoscopy, Oncology and Community Health teams collaborated to provide free colonoscopies and colon cancer education to the area’s Latino community. Through a multi-month campaign, staff taught more than 90 people about colon cancer prevention and provided 13 colonoscopies.

Expanding the program

After the success of Southdale’s efforts, in 2015 the program was renewed and expanded to include Fairview Ridges Hospital. Using their combined resources, the two hospitals educated more than 160 people and performed 32 colonoscopies—a significant increase from the previous year.

Bridging a cultural gap

One of the keys to the program’s success was its combination of clinical and cultural expertise. The project’s team included Francisco Ramirez, a bilingual community health worker who worked to build trust and connect with native Spanish-speakers.

Francisco also worked with staff to schedule patients for colonoscopies, provided pre-surgery instructions and followed up with patients afterwards. Throughout each facet of the initiative, Francisco served as an educator and patient advocate.

In addition to building individual relationships, Francisco also reached out to larger Latino audiences about colon cancer through radio and TV programs, health fairs and outreach advertising.

“I’m a true believer that the key to having more positive outcomes in community health is working together,” says Francisco. “This collaborative initiative is proof that preventive health care is invaluable and helps us have healthier communities.”