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Project COPE (Cancer Outreach Prevention Education)

  • Need: Comprehensive breast care services are unavailable in many rural regions of Kentucky, and many of the women in these areas lack financial means for adequate breast care.
  • Intervention: Project COPE was initiated to provide women with support at any and every stage of breast cancer treatment.
  • Results: Women in the service area no longer have to travel to urban areas for customary breast care services and now have numerous avenues of support when going through breast cancer treatment.


In 2008, Marcum & Wallace Memorial Hospital – now Mercy Health – collaborated with local providers and service agents to create Project COPE in rural Kentucky. Located in Estill County, Project COPE also serves the surrounding Lee, Owsley, and Powell counties. Mercy Health is the only facility with breast care services and was the first to offer breast cancer awareness and screening in the four-county region. The hospital's service area has an estimated 2,000 uninsured or underinsured women. Thanks to Project COPE, patients no longer have to travel long distances to urban areas and therefore are more likely to receive needed annual screenings.

Program Director Sharon Whitaker with program participant
Program Director Sharon Whitaker (right) with program participant who received financial assistance with mammogram imaging, surgery, and treatment.

Project COPE uses a comprehensive approach to breast cancer education, screenings, diagnoses, and treatments for women in Appalachian Kentucky who struggle financially. Even for breast care treatments that aren't available in the counties served, such as surgical consultations, chemotherapy, and radiation, Project COPE works with women to remove the financial burden of all medical expenses related to breast care. In addition, through connections with Kentucky CancerLink, Project COPE links patients with local entities to obtain post-treatment items such as surgical garments and wigs.

Project COPE collaborated with a local clinic to develop a self-referral mammography system where women do not need an order from a doctor for the examination. Whether or not tests result in a positive detection of breast cancer, a medical home is established for further healthcare delivery. Mercy Health similarly collaborates with area health departments to promote awareness, education, and mammography screenings. The four county health departments have suffered cutbacks in recent years, and Project COPE is able to assist in relieving some of the financial burden for them and their constituents.

From 2008 to 2015, Project COPE received support from a Susan G. Komen grant. In 2016, Project COPE worked with local health departments to assist women in obtaining low-cost breast screening services.

Services offered

Marcum & Wallace Memorial Hospital tabling
Marcum & Wallace Memorial Hospital table at a breast cancer awareness event.

Main services:

  • Digital mammography screenings and diagnostic
  • Breast MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)
  • Breast ultrasounds
  • Surgical treatment

Additional services:

  • Mammotome breast biopsy
  • Assistance with follow-up referrals
  • Assistance with surgical consultations
  • Assistance with cancer treatment
  • Financial assistance with medical bills and other monetary needs on an individual basis
  • Educational events including "Ladies Night Out," where women learn about breast cancer and the importance of early detection
  • Help establishing a medical home

In 2018, program coordinators are organizing a breast cancer support group that will provide education as well as emotional support.


Ladies Night Out
Women attending the Ladies Night Out educational event

By 2013, the program screened approximately 24% of the estimated 2,000 uninsured and underinsured women in the program's service area. Now, around 60 to 100 women are assisted with various services per grant period.

In 2015, about 100 women attended the Ladies Night Out event. In October 2015, 260 mammograms were performed during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. By January 2016, 50 women were assisted through various Project COPE services for the 2015-2016 grant period, which ended April 2016. In October 2016, about 80 women attended the Ladies Night Out event.

In addition, Mercy Health programs such as Project COPE were listed in an American Hospital Association case study as examples of innovative models of care delivery.


Project leaders report advertising and marketing as barriers. Many women in the service area were unaware of the money available to help them with breast care. In the same vein, Project COPE members have found it difficult to educate women of the additional services offered by Project COPE outside of mammograms and annual checkups.


With so many budget cuts in health departments around the nation, look for different grants offered for breast care. In addition, try to collaborate with regional healthcare entities as much as possible. This not only combines resources but also helps spread the workload of successful projects.

Contact Information

Sharon Whitaker, Program Director
Mercy Health

Health screening
Uninsured and underinsured
Wellness, health promotion, and disease prevention

States served

Date added
January 27, 2016

Date updated or reviewed
January 10, 2019

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.