CHICAGO (STMW) — Chicago is expanding a program that provides free mammograms to uninsured women — by nearly 1,500 patients — despite a state funding cut-off triggered by alleged mismanagement.

The decision to absorb the $300,000 state cut and bankroll a $200,000 expansion at nearly-shuttered Roseland Community Hospital is aimed at saving lives through early diagnosis.

Roseland and the surrounding communities of Beverly, Washington Heights and Auburn Gresham have Chicago’s four highest rates of premature death from breast cancer.

“This is…an attempt to address the disparities that exist in health care services,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a news conference at Roseland Community Hospital, 45 W. 111th St.

“It’s all about access. It is one of the few cancers in which, if you diagnose it early enough, you can actually deal with it….Although this is part of the budget that starts [Jan. 1], we will be starting the service before the end of the year….because every mother, every daughter, every grandmother, every aunt, every friend — you can get an exam, you can actually save a life.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair said Roseland Community has a “top-notch” mammography machine, even though the financially-strapped hospital came close to closing its doors.

“Women in these neighborhoods who have breast cancer are dying at a younger age than the rest of the city. And we know how we can resolve this — by making sure that more women are getting screened,” Choucair said.

Earlier this year, the state cut off funding for the city’s mammography program amid allegations that the Health Department was having unqualified people diagnose women with abnormal mammograms and taking too long to refer them for follow-up exams.

The funding for a program now serving 2,914 patients, compared to 4,942 four years ago, has not yet been restored.

But Choucair said Wednesday the city has already addressed the state’s concerns in hopes that funding will be restored next year.

“We’ve explained to them that we do have a referral mechanism. We showed them documentation that our nurses have been trained to perform breast exams. And most importantly, we’ve never had — not even one time — any women in our programs on a wait list,” the commissioner said.

But Choucair acknowledged that there’s room for improvement.

“We have an RFP out to identify radiologists who would read the mammograms…to help us make sure that whoever we contract with is a qualified provider with all of the credentials we need,” he said.

“Our technicians will also be going through a boot camp making sure the quality of the way they take the mammogram is top-notch.”

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2013. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)