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Rogel Cancer Center addresses health disparities through community partnerships

At the Rogel Cancer Center through Michigan Medicine, it’s not just about screening for cancer and providing survivors with the treatment they need. It’s also about connecting to communities in the State of Michigan who face disparate health outcomes, finding new and innovative ways to educate and empower, and working together with them to tackle and prevent cancer.  

Whether through breakfast events, art therapy programs, or tai chi classes, the Rogel Center is always looking for creative ways to tap into communities and help solve poor health outcomes. This is especially important for groups of people who’ve been historically neglected by the medical industry, leading to mistrust and a lack of screenings for certain cancers.  

One of the ways the Rogel Center is helping create a more equitable medical landscape is through their community advisory board. Some of ACCESS' health employees are part of their board. 

“The community advisory board has been really of prime importance to make sure we are listening to and understanding the needs of community members and advocating for those needs,” says Martha Laatsch, Director of Community Outreach. “I think that that's really the mission of our outreach and engagement team is to be in the community, working alongside community members and partnering to figure out what needs are and how we can get those needs met.” 

Due to a lack of a MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) category recognized by the federal government, MENA groups are often left out of research opportunities and funding that might help identify community-specific health disparities.  

In addressing this concern, ACCESS and the Rogel Center have cultivated a relationship through the years to address some of these disparities. For example, Laatsch points out that MENA people typically have lower screening rates for breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and lower rates of Papanicolaou (pap smear) testing.  

“That was the first study because MENA and Chaldean people don't have their own racial categories. We were really able to delve into and have very specific racial categories,” says Nadia Syed, former community advisory board member. “So we partnered with the Rogel Center to do a survey that was looking at how racial discrimination and medical mistrust can impact a person's screening behavior. Are they less likely to go get screened because they feel like their doctor's not trusting them? Or if they can't find a doctor that they identify with are less likely to go get that cancer screening?”  

With the current pandemic, ACCESS and the Rogel Center are currently partnered to find out more information regarding COVID-19 vaccine in the MENA community. This research and partnership is critical in helping discover health disparities and solve them.

Photo credit: University of Michigan Medical School Go Blue Guide