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Photo courtesy of Project Renewal
Photo courtesy of Project Renewal

At the entrance of Community Healthcare Network in Long Island City, administrators cut a long pink ribbon releasing a powerhouse of breast cancer prevention — a mobile mammography clinic, a mini-doctor’s office on wheels.

On Oct. 22, Project Renewal, a nonprofit that works to provide health care and housing to New York City’s homeless, introduced its new mobile mammography clinic to the borough of Queens during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. On the outside, the 40-foot-long vehicle resembles an RV. But inside, is home to state-of-the-art Hologic full field digital mammography machinery, a nurses’ office and a reception area.

Although the $650,000 vehicle is ready to travel around the city, the new mobile clinic will only be serving a fourth of the number of Queens women that the old vehicle served last year.  The Cancer Services Program of Queens, which receives funding from the New York State Health Department, has decided to not renew its mobile mammography clinic contract with Project Renewal, according to director and founder of Project Renewal, Mary Solomon.

Under New York State’s Cancer Services Program, 22 cancer services contractors were “competitively procured,” said a Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesman for the state Department of Health, in an email to QNS. Five cancer service programs were contracted in New York City: New York-Presbyterian Queens, The Brooklyn Hospital Center, Lincoln Medical & Mental Health Center, The New York Presbyterian Hospital and Staten Island University Hospital.

“They don’t need us,” Solomon said. “We are now telling these Queens residents we are sorry, we can’t come back to you.” Project Renewal was able to serve about 1,000 women in the borough of Queens last year but that number will have to be whittled down to 250.

Of the 2.33 million Queens residents, 13 percent live in poverty and nearly half are immigrants, according to Data USA, a website that aggregates and analyzes U.S government data. What makes Project Renewal’s mobile mammography clinic unique is that it is specially targets “the working poor” and immigrant women.

Project Renewal works with a dozen community centers, churches and nonprofits to help bring breast exams and mammographies to new New Yorkers who may not undergo a check-up due to language or cultural constrictions. The Tvistomi Association, Korean Community Services, Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, Sapna NYC and Gujarati Samaj are just some of the Queens organizations that Project Renewal’s mobile clinic has worked with.

The clinics ability to essentially bring a mammography and breast exam to women accommodates multiple-job holders and those who might bypass an annual exam for other reasons.

“Some of my friends are [afraid] and I want to hit them in the heads — look at what happened to me,” said Christal Putkowski, a 67-year-old Staten Island resident who was diagnosed with breast cancer after an annual check up at one of the Project Renewal mobile mammography clinics. Putkowski said that she owed her life to Solomon and her team who also called her on a weekly basis after her double mastectomy in 2013.

“If I was depressed and crying they would cry along with me,” Putkowski said. Solomon’s team would also encourage her to keep her chin up. “I know other women who never got that kind of service.”

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