Q&A: An inside look at new mobile mammography unit in Ypsilanti

February 2, 2023  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership

This month, U-M Health is rolling out a new mobile mammography unit to be based at the Ypsilanti Health Center.

Recently, Tony Denton, U-M Health’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, shared details of the unit, why it has been added and what the organization hopes to accomplish with it in the months and years ahead.

Here’s what he had to say:

Q: Can you tell us about the mobile mammography unit, how it will work and who will benefit from it?

TD: We’ve made the decision to invest in a mobile mammography unit to initially benefit the Ypsilanti area community. We feel that it’s important to bring care closer to home, consistent with broader strategies for Michigan Medicine and U-M Health.

The benefits will really [be reflected in] earlier screening for breast cancer to detect where there might be presence of breast cancer in order to treat and prevent it. So we’re trying to bring more services closer to the community to make it easier to access the care of Michigan Medicine.

Q: What are the details of the rollout of the unit?

TD: We received the unit – which is a GE Health Care unit for mobile mammography – at the end of January. We plan to activate it on Feb. 14. In the meantime, we’re going to have open houses to educate our community, both internal and external, to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, to improve awareness around breast cancer and the importance of screening.

Once activated, we have it fully staffed and ready to go, which will include a schedule of three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. That may be tweaked based on demand.

Given that it is a mobile unit, while we will be deploying it in Ypsilanti for three days a week, but we’re also looking at other communities in need that can benefit from the mobile mammography unit being in their area. We intend for it to be used as much as possible in order to improve access.

Q: Can we dive a little bit deeper into the idea of improving access? Why is it so important to have this type of resource available?

TD: It’s a great question. There are some powerful connections between how we assess community health needs, which is part of our responsibility as a health care provider. We then need to take action once we identify those needs.

In this case, we determined that there was lack of access to screening services for the Ypsilanti area community. And in turn, screening and improving access is a part of our strategy for U-M Health and our BASE priorities, including belonging and inclusion, improving access, safety and quality, and providing an ideal patient care experience.

That ideal experience includes making care more accessible closer to home, which is more time and cost efficient for patients in the community.

When we think about communities that are lacking in access, they tend to be communities where the economic [resources] are lower than in other communities. Ypsilanti identified as a socially vulnerable area. And where we have right now Ypsilanti Health Center, we offer essentially only primary care services. There are very few specialty services and no imaging services.

So you can imagine, if I need to take a bus to go to the Ypsilanti Health Center, it costs money and I’m only going there for primary care services, but I’m not able to get any kind of imaging. So I have to get back on a bus, go home, get on another bus with a different route to go into Ann Arbor, which takes more time and more money. And this is all in a community where people don’t have the meaningful resources to do all of that. So that can lead to patients deferring care.

By improving access and bringing it closer to home, it makes it easier, more convenient and safer for the community.

Q: The organization recently announced a new Ypsilanti Health Center that will be created in that community. Is that where this unit will be stationed when the new building opens next year? And if not, can you tell us more about how it will be deployed long term?

TD: We have the opportunity to do many things to benefit the Ypsilanti area community in terms of investment. The mobile mammography unit is actually what I would call part of Phase 1, where we’re bringing specialty imaging services to the community. But we are also expanding specialty services at the existing Ypsilanti Health Center to try to bring even more services to one location.

And then there’s a longer, bigger phase that was announced in December, which is an intention to relocate the existing Ypsilanti Health Center to 300 West Michigan Avenue, the former EMU College of Business. There, we will create a 50,000-square-foot facility that’s going to be more comprehensive, which includes primary care, specialty care services and a suite of imaging services including mammography.

That will give us an opportunity to then transfer the mobile mammography unit to other communities in need. Right now, we’re identifying where those areas are, but we will be driven by the goal of providing better services in communities that depend on Michigan Medicine for their health care needs.