Outdated equipment at Weems Memorial Hospital, in need of repair or replacement, has led to a shift to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Gulf of mammography services for Franklin County.

Franklin Needs, Inc. the volunteer group of Franklin County women who have been instrumental in raising funds for providing breast cancer screenings, has announced that beginning this month, all the mammograms that they fund will be performed at Sacred Heart.

The decision to direct business to the hospital in Port St. Joe came as a result of a perfect storm of factors - a breakdown in Weems’ outdated analog mammography machine, the preference by physicians for digital mammograms and Sacred Heart’s competitive pricing for the diagnostic procedure.

“The program is moving to the next closest hospital (to Weems) which is Sacred Heart,” said Elaine Kozlowsky, a board member for Franklin Needs. “They have given us a better price than either Weems or Bay Radiology, a flat fee for screening digital mammogram, diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.”

Weems CEO Ray Brownsworth said between Nov. 2011 and Oct. 2012, Weems conducted 58 mammography tests, and has done about 20 in the past seven months.

“The majority of those were being diverted already, even when the machine was up and working, because the analog (equipment) was no longer able to meet the requirements of the diagnosing physicians,” said Brownsworth. “They (women) would come here and get re-sent over to Bay Medical at the time.”

Brownsworth said there had been a drop-off in utilization prior to the decision by Franklin Needs, which came following a meeting with the CEO. “They met with me prior to the decision and sought my input which I greatly appreciate,” said Brownsworth. “In that meeting, I shared our plan to replace our older technology and to once again provide mammography services to the women of Franklin County. They were supportive and expressed a desire to resume our relationship in the future.”

Kozlowsky said “we’re hoping to have this equipment at our hospital someday. Our original plan was to be self-sufficient and for all the money raised to remain in Franklin County.”

She said that two members of the Franklin Needs board also serve on the board of the Weems Foundation. “We are hoping support from the community for the Weems Foundation to raise the money for equipment for the program,” she said. 

So far this year, Franklin Needs has raised $40,000, she said.

Brownsworth said that repairing the analog machine, which was purchased in 2009 through a grant written by former Weems CEO Chuck Colvert, would not make sense.

“The processor has broken and rather than fix it, for the low volume of tests we get, prefer to reinvest in new technology, in digital mammography,” he said, noting that a used digital machine could cost in the range of $175,000.

“We are also evaluating the possibility of mobile digital mammography,” Brownsworth said. “It will be a strategic decision related to capital. It is a service that we’d like to provide to the community we serve but I’m going to have to find a cost-effective means of doing that.”

Kozlowsky said that about 100 women have been served by the program since its inception. “Many have had repeated examinations,” she said.

Eligibility is limited to county residents who have no health insurance and are aged 35-64, she said. Those who are transportation disadvantaged can apply for assistance at Croom’s, and if granted, would cost them only $4 per trip.

If a biopsy is required, they are performed at Bay Radiology, Kozlowsky said. She said that for those who have had mammograms performed at Bay Radiology, Sacred Heart will request the records when an appointment is scheduled.

“We will continue to pay for testing up to diagnosis as long as funds are available,” she said.