‘In it for the right reasons’: Rogel Cancer Center provides outreach, support to minority community

April 8, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Rogel Cancer Center, Strategy & Leadership,
Two people surrounded by health care symbols, such as syringes, notepads and smartphones.

Michigan Medicine strives to provide excellent care to members of the surrounding community. But who encompasses the “community?” Indeed, that one broad reference is actually made of several groups who have their own unique culture that impacts health and health care. 

To better reach the Middle Eastern North African (MENA) community in southeastern Michigan, the Rogel Cancer Center has been partnering with ACCESS, a community-based organization dedicated to serving that population. 

Through the partnership, Rogel researchers surveyed their community to identify their specific needs in order to inform specific, culturally-tailored programs to address health concerns and ultimately improve screening rates for certain cancers. 

“It was important that we went to work right away to improve our relationships with the MENA community and give them the care they deserve,” said Martha Laatsch, director of community outreach and engagement at Rogel.

Beginning outreach efforts

Minal Patel, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Ken Resnicow, Ph.D., both faculty in the U-M School of Public Health and team members at the Rogel Cancer Center, initiated a series of projects — in partnership with ACCESS — to better understand and improve the health of this community.  

The Rogel Cancer Center Community Outreach and Engagement program was able to do three specific things:

  • Administer a survey to about 400 adults who identify as part of the MENA community
  • Establish a presence of ACCESS representatives on the Rogel Community Advisory Board
  • Bring together researchers working with the MENA community

The survey

“Minal has been crucial to forging the strong partnership we now have with ACCESS,” said Laatsch. 

Among that work was the aforementioned survey, which gave broad insight into factors that affect the MENA population.

“The survey helped us identify a number of barriers to screening and prevention of certain cancers,” said Resnicow. “We were able to measure the effect of psychosocial issues like discrimination and financial toxicity while also assessing health risks and advantages due to certain behaviors.”

The survey also identified a number of other risk factors, including hookah smoking, women’s health and modesty issues, and genetic testing hesitancy. 

The Community Advisory Board

By inviting representatives from ACCESS to join the Community Advisory Board, they were able to provide feedback on projects, give input on what would be the most impactful and connect on initiatives at Rogel. 

For instance, based on the survey data and feedback from the advisory board, Resnicow and colleagues created a text message-based smoking cessation program called “YALLAH QUIT!,”  that coincides with Ramadan, making it culturally relevant and integrated with the holy calendar that many members of the MENA community adhere to. 

Unifying projects

The unique partnership has led to other health initiatives to address issues identified in the survey. One being feasibility and acceptance of at-home HPV testing — which identifies an indicator of risk for future cancer development. The at-home testing could circumvent access and modesty issues. 

The team also developed an “Ask the Doctor” panel event that was presented totally in Arabic to address the lower screening rates for colorectal cancers within the MENA community.

ACCESS also partnered with the Community Outreach and Engagement’s annual Breast Cancer Forum event.

Their participation in 2019 was a stepping stone — and with the event’s cancellation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both groups are excited to get back on track with an upcoming event in May.  

Moving forward

As with most aspects of health care, COVID-19 has affected outreach work. However, using the same strategies employed during their initial survey work, the team is working alongside the Karmanos Cancer Institute to assess cultural attitudes toward the COVID-19 vaccine. The hope is for this work to help develop a vaccination campaign. 

“It’s important to work with community groups and show them that you’re in it for the right reasons,” Resnicow said. “Earning trust and following through have been the keys to making this work successful.”