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Teamwork Brings Cancer Screening to the Manhattan VAMC

Dunkin Adams, DMD, providing a dental screening to a Veteran.
Dunkin Adams, DMD, providing a dental screening on Veteran James P. Strachan.

On an otherwise quiet, rainy morning at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System’s Manhattan Campus, Speech Language Pathologists Matthew Vespertino and Stephanie Bonowicz were busy setting up Harbor’s first in-person cancer screening event in over two years to commemorate Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week.

The COVID-19 pandemic created opportunities and obstacles for healthcare providers caring for Veterans across the country. On one hand, Veterans were now able to speak to their doctor without leaving home through new telehealth capabilities. On the other, it was more difficult for patients at risk for cancers and illnesses to be seen and screened.

That’s why Vespertino and Bonowicz leapt into action.

“We work with many patients who have a history of head and neck cancer, so we reached out to our colleagues to see if they would collaborate to offer free screenings,” Vespertino said.

Speech Pathology was joined by members of Harbor’s Dental team – represented by Dr. John Gehlbach, DMD, and Dr. Dunkin Adams, DMD – as well as Dr. Alexa Franco who provided Ear, Eye, Nose, and Throat (EENT) screenings.

“So many departments came together to help set up this great event and offer screening services with us,” Bonowicz said.

Environmental Management Services (EMS) and Food Services also helped pull off a successful event, with 33 Veterans being screened in just two hours.

Vietnam Veterans James P. Strachan and Gordon White were impressed with how quickly – and thorough – the screenings were.

“I’ve been coming to the Manhattan campus for almost 15 years, and I’ve always received excellent care. I want to thank these fine young folks who are working hard to care for us,” White said.

“Thank you for looking out for us,” Strachan added.

When asked what the best part about working at the VA was, Vespertino says it’s the teamwork and collaboration.

“This really is my dream job,” Bonowicz said

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