February 18, 2022

New breast health navigator connects patients, providers & hospitals

Breast Health Navigator Annie Tarricone standing outdoors profile image

‘I’m in the middle of the triangle bringing together patients, their primary care providers and the hospitals where they get their mammograms. Patients and hospitals say they are glad to have this role dedicated to breast health.’

 

Heartland Health Centers’ new Breast Health Navigator Anne Tarricone moved to Chicago for college from the Boston area in 2016 because she loved improv and felt the city would be a more welcoming environment to come out as queer. Or as she sums it up, “try the comedy stuff, meet cool people.”

Inspired partly by her mom, a special education teacher, Tarricone, 24, studied social work in Loyola’s five-year BA/MA program. After an internship in prevention work, she joined Heartland Health Centers to help create the breast health navigator position, funded by the Illinois Department of Public Health, last fall.

Early detection of breast cancer through mammograms saves lives, but access and cost to the screening are huge barriers. In 2018, women with health insurance were more than twice as likely to get a mammogram as women without health insurance, according to Susan G. Komen.

One solution: breast health navigators, whose mission is to reduce that disparity.

A few months into the role, Tarricone says it seems to be working. “I’m in the middle of the triangle bringing together patients, their primary care providers and the hospitals where they get their mammograms,” she says. “Patients and hospitals say they are glad to have this role dedicated to breast health.”

What does a breast health navigator do?

Her average day includes connecting patients with free mammogram programs at Swedish and St Francis hospitals. Other services she provides include:

  • While patients get their results from a nurse or medical staffer, she can help them make sense of what test results mean.
  • Tarricone gives patients her direct line in case anything comes up before, during or after a mammogram. For patients who are best served in a language other than English, she has the translation services number on speed dial.
  • If breast cancer ever is diagnosed  – which happens rarely, she says – Tarricone can help with care coordination.

“People are worried about paying the bill of course, or a bad result,” Tarricone says. “Sometimes they need more imaging. That often worries people, so I do just general education about what their result means.”

One aspect of breast care that has surprised Tarricone is how gendered it is. “Everything is pink and everything is about women,” she says. “But you never know someone’s gender identity.” A goal of hers is to shift the language and culture around breast health education generally.

Tarricone says she’s also surprised how much she enjoys working in healthcare—and she’s glad she got to take classes at Second City since she moved here, which she also draws on in her work with patients. “The times I work directly with patients, I’m able to have great conversations where we’re just laughing,” she says. “I’m a welcoming person for them.”

Uninsured or underinsured patients can get reproductive health services including a mammogram referral through the Illinois Family Planning Program at Heartland Health Centers’ Wilson Clinic (845 W. Wilson). Call 773-751-7800 to schedule an appointment at any of our health centers.