By Diane Mwai
The University of Alabama at Birmingham Digestive Health Center will offer free colonoscopies to select patients of Cooper Green Mercy Health Services Authority through a grant from the Alabama Department of Public Health during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March.
The grant will provide colorectal cancer screenings for 200 Jefferson County residents between the ages of 45 and 75 who are uninsured or underinsured or have a low income. Criteria for inclusion include a positive fecal immunochemical test, or FIT, high risk for colorectal cancer, and/or preference for colonoscopy compared to other screening modalities.
“Our mission at UAB has been focused on combating health disparities in our community,” said Robert H. Hollis, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gastrointestinal Surgery, Department of Surgery in the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine. “March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and with this grant we will be able to provide essential screenings that can prevent and reduce the morbidity of colorectal cancer.”
Noninvasive tests such as the FIT play an important role in CRC screening, yet undergoing a colonoscopy is still essential for patients with a positive FIT.
“Only 26 percent of uninsured patients who meet screening criteria report having had a colonoscopy in the past 10 years compared to 60 percent of privately insured patients, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey,” said Adam Edwards, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in the Department of Medicine. “Jefferson County has approximately 90,000 patients living below the federal poverty line, putting many patients at high risk of not receiving appropriate screenings.”
Cooper Green is an affiliate of the UAB Health System. Over the past five years, more than 300 Cooper Green patients have undergone colonoscopy at UAB. Eligible patients for the ADPH-funded screenings will be referred by Cooper Green primary care physicians and reviewed on-site at Cooper Green by UAB gastroenterologist Patricia Ajayi-Fox, M.D., prior to heading to the UAB Digestive Health Center. The colonoscopies will be performed in the Endoscopy Center of the Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital. Colonoscopy preparation kits will be provided at no charge. Eligible patients will be accepted through September 2023.
“This is an important initiative to break down barriers that can stand in the way of underinsured or uninsured patients from getting the colon cancer screening they need,” said Raegan Durant, M.D., medical director for Cooper Green. “Our thanks to the Alabama Department of Public Health for the funding support and the UAB Digestive Health Center for taking the lead on this vital project.”
UAB’s Digestive Health Center is composed of the Divisions of Gastrointestinal Surgery and Gastroenterology/Hepatology.