Montefiore Revives See, Test & Treat in 2021
Early Saturday morning, May 15, when most New Yorkers were just waking up to the start of a beautiful spring weekend, a group of volunteers assembled in the lobby of Montefiore Health System’s Greene Medical Arts Pavilion in the Bronx. With the precision of a seasoned theater troupe, they were hustling to get ready for “show time.” In the Radiology suite one floor below, health care providers and staff were just as busy. They were setting up for the cancer screenings they’d be administering to women for whom these routine services are normally out of reach.
Across campus in the Hofheimer Pavilion, Mark Suhrland, MD, chief of cytopathology, and his clinical cytology laboratory team by led by Ellen Reiches, senior supervisor, and cytopathology medical staff, were gearing up to process and analyze the plastic containers containing Pap specimens that soon would be thrust into their gloved and capable hands by volunteer “runners.”
All of this activity was the culmination of months of planning for See, Test and Treat, a community outreach event that offers uninsured and underinsured free breast and cervical cancer screenings, rapid results and free follow-up care, if needed. Spearheaded by the Montefiore Einstein Department of Pathology in collaboration with the Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Women’s Health and of Radiology, and funded in part by the CAP Foundation, See, Test & Treat has been an annual rite of spring at Montefiore for nearly a decade, serving women ages 21–64 in the Bronx. Until last year, that is, when the COVID-19 pandemic brought down the curtain.
On with the Show
In March 2020, the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic catapulted the New York metropolitan area to world attention as the epicenter of the global pandemic. And Montefiore’s Norwood neighborhood and surrounding areas of the Bronx assumed an unenviable claim to fame: the epicenter of the epicenter.
“In terms of See, Test & Treat, 2020 was the exception that could not be avoided,” Dr. Suhrland says. “We were in full crisis mode here at Montefiore.” After months of pondering the feasibility of a See, Test & Treat revival for spring 2021, the steady decline in COVID hospital admissions and deaths toward year’s end offered a ray of hope.
The Executive Producer
“Our institutional mission, like that of See, Test & Treat, is to serve the underserved,” notes Dr. Suhrland. “It would be out of the question to deny potentially life-saving services for a second year in a row to a population of women in our community who desperately need them.”
So, starting in January, he led a four-member team in preparing for a See, Test & Treat unlike any other. To allay fears of contracting the virus that might keep women in their target population from entering the building, they established a strict COVID-safety protocol, giving it prominent notice in all pre-event publicity: temp checks at the door, tape markers on the floor for proper social distancing, and provision of masks and hand sanitizer.
When Dr. Suhrland announced his intention to move ahead, Judy Huie-Kennedy, a full-time marketing specialist in the Pathology Department’s Customer Service Division, was all in.
For Ms. Huie-Kennedy, See, Test & Treat is personal. “You might say it’s a passion of mine,” she confides. “As an advanced-stage cervical cancer survivor, I know firsthand how critically important it is for women to get routine screenings. How one simple test can literally save your life.” Having started out as a rank-and-file volunteer four years ago, she made her debut as organizer of the entire production this year.
Ms. Huie-Kennedy’s experience as a member of a community opera company served her well. Like any operatic production, she points out, See, Test & Treat has many moving parts. To wit, a partial list: securing supplies such as drapes, gowns, and specula; reaching out to local clinics, churches, and food pantries serving the target population; creating and distributing promotional posters and flyers; working with Montefiore’s PR team to alert local media; setting up a Facebook page; recruiting and supervising volunteers; overseeing the pre-registration process; ordering tchotchkes for patient giveaways and See, Test & Treat tee-shirts and pizza for volunteers; nailing down commitments from local support groups and community agencies to provide on-site representatives; liaising with the CAP Foundation; ensuring a COVID-safe environment and smooth workflow at the event.
Like any smart director, Ms. Huie-Kennedy knows how to find talent and how to delegate. Inspired by her and Dr. Suhrland’s impassioned pitches about the program, a corps of enthusiastic volunteers stepped up to join the effort, both during the lead-up to and on the day of the event.
The success of See, Test & Treat hinges on the participation of highly skilled and compassionate health care providers from Montefiore’s OB/GYN and radiology teams, and their support staff, who donate their time and expertise on what would normally be their day off.
They are the key partners in this undertaking, being the providers of the essential cancer screenings, and performing a plethora of support activities, including patient registration into the medical center’s EPIC database. Their commitment to follow-up care is vital in connecting patients in need with the Montefiore health care network.
Talitha Lisa-Marie Bruney, MD, obstetrician-gynecologist, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and medical director of a Bronx-based family health clinic, has played an essential leadership role in See, Test & Treat for many years. This year Dr. Bruney was assisted in conducting Pap tests and breast exams by her mentees: Drs. Calvin Lambert, Ashley Duhon, Said Saab, Ayoka Adams, Curtis Appel, Cyrus Jalai, and Stephanie Pottinger.
Radiologists Yelena Kozirovsky, MD, and Takouhie Maldijian, MD, led the team conducting mammograms for the breast cancer screenings.
Lamar Duncan, Montefiore’s imaging manager/assistant administrator, and Rose Mary Cabreja, special radiology technician, both volunteer for See, Test & Treat every year. Mr. Duncan, who grew up in Montefiore’s Gun Hill Road neighborhood, sees the program as a way to give back to the community he loves.
The Supporting Cast
An eclectic group of volunteers, both from Montefiore and nearby Westchester County, all were eager to lend their time and talent.
Dolis Ruiz, MS, the pathology quality management systems supervisor, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, has volunteered for the past three Montefiore See, Test & Treats, pre-registering women over the phone and serving as an on-site language interpreter at the event.
Sebastian Jofre, DO, a cytopathology fellow, played a key role in publicizing the event, setting up and managing a bilingual See, Test & Treat Facebook page and translating posters and flyers into Spanish. On the day of the event he teamed up with fellow cytopathology trainee Arash Lahoutiharahdashti, MD, to engage attendees in a patient-education activity involving Pap specimen slides and a double-headed microscope.
Janet Omene, supervisor of courier and logistics for the pathology customer service division, made time in the weeks leading up to the event to pick up promotional posters and flyers and deliver them to strategic locations.
Pathology resident Raquel Yokoda, MD, and MD/PhD (pathology) candidate Rosiris Leon Rivera, PhD, signed on as patient navigators and language interpreters, and Dr. Yokoda served as on-site photographer, Tweeter, and interviewer of volunteers. Frances Mendez, cytopathology fellowship program administrator, who is also bilingual in Spanish and English, returned for her second year as a See, Test & Treat volunteer; she greeted and oriented attendees, doubling as language interpreter and trouble-shooter. Mica Grantham, MD, a fellow in the Pathology Department’s Women’s Health Program, was on hand to answer medical questions.
Jean Marfil, associate director, Montefiore infection control, oversaw the proper implementation and enforcement of COVID protocols.
Wanda Guzman-Delgado and Maria Mangan, project coordinators at the Einstein Institute for Aging Research, worked the radiology suite as patient navigators.
Pam Curtin, a clinical laboratory consultant, and retirees Angela Usobiaga and Ernie Kennedy—all first-time volunteers—served as patient ambassadors and patient navigators.
In one corner of the lobby cytopathology fellows Sebastian Jofre, DO, and Arash Lahoutiharahdashti, MD, invited attendees awaiting their test results to join them (socially distanced) to peer through a double-headed microscope at slides of Pap specimens. The trainees got to practice their communication skills with real patients, explaining the science behind the screenings as well as the pathologist’s role in patient care. The fellows were pleasantly surprised to see how interested the women were. Attendees also picked up patient education pamphlets about the HPV vaccine produced by Dr. Suhrland with a previous year’s grant from the CAP Foundation.
A total of 18 women, ranging in age from 36 to 68, participated in Montefiore’s 2021 See, Test & Treat program.
Here is a sampling of their comments:
“Gracias, dios les bendiga.”
“Thank you all. The team was wonderful. I can’t say enough of their kindness and care. Your team demonstrates the Montefiore mission to help the community more and more.”
“Thank you for the opportunity to have a mammogram and sonogram. Everyone was so nice and helpful, making me feel so welcome and well-taken-care-of.”
Volunteers were equally enthusiastic about the event. Angela Usobiaga reflected on her experience as a first-time See, Test & Treat volunteer:
“I was so inspired by the medical staff and their dedication, and also by the other volunteers, who have such busy lives but still made time to give up some precious time to help. It was a pleasure to be among such a great group of people!”
Frances Mendez, cytopathology administrator, also chimed in on her experience as a patient greeter and interpreter:
“I’m glad we’re able to offer See, Test & Treat again because last year was a very difficult year for all of us. I like helping people. I’m bilingual, and a lot of the ladies don’t speak English. They need interpreters.”
Same Time Next Year
When asked whether he plans to apply for a CAP Foundation grant to host another See, Test & Treat program next year, Dr. Suhrland confirmed his intentions to do so. “I’m delighted with our program’s success in this particularly challenging year,” he says. “I can’t say enough about Judy’s [Ms. Huie-Kennedy’s] leadership, and about the dedication of our amazing clinical partners, cytology lab team, and volunteers.”
“Each year we build upon the previous year’s efforts,” Ms. Huie-Kennedy says. “We hope to widen the net next year to include women from other ethnic and cultural communities in the Bronx and lower Westchester County, as well as additional community resources we’ve identified that focus on women’s health.”
She summed up the day as she would a boffo opera performance: “Good show, everybody!”
The content for this article was provided courtesy of Lora Friedman, media content specialist, Montefiore Einstein Department of Pathology.