Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), awarded $425,000 to Roanoke Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC) to improve access to life-saving cancer screenings and early detection services for people in Northeast North Carolina including those residing in Hertford, Bertie, Northampton, Gates, and Washington Counties. These awards double support for an initiative launched last year by the Biden-Harris Administration through which HRSA-funded health centers like RCCHC are working to close the colorectal cancer (CRC) screening gap and decrease the impact of preventable cancers.
Several portions of RCCHC’s service area comprise a colorectal cancer “hotspot.” This area has high rates of colorectal cancer and more people die from CRC here than the statewide or national average. Since 2018, RCCHC has participated as an UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center study site in the NCI-funded Cancer MoonshotSM Initiative, Accelerating Colorectal Cancer Screening and Follow-up through Implementation Science (ACCSIS).
Kim Schwartz, CEO at RCCHC, says “RCCHC and the UNC Lineberger teams have taken aggressive and constructive measures to increase early screening and connect patients to affordable solutions when cancer is detected. Over the last several years the impact has been incredible. The Cancer Moonshot’s goals closely align with RCCHC’s purpose to make early intervention accessible to all and address existing barriers based on disparities such as income, insurance status, and race and ethnicity. Hearing President Biden at his State of the Union speech mention Moonshot felt as though, right here in Eastern North Carolina, we are going to contribute to this greater mission in a big way.”
While RCCHC has been increasing rates of colorectal cancer screening, we also must aim to ensure our additional work is equitable. To reduce barriers to completing CRC screening, RCCHC will add 1) an outreach program for the mailed Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) to serve more of RCCHC patients who are due for screening, and 2) FIT distribution from our mobile health unit. The mobile health unit helps deliver services to historically marginalized populations, including public housing residents, mobile home community residents, and seasonal agricultural workers—all of whom might have trouble getting to our brick and mortar sites.
RCCHC will use this funding to hire staff including a community health worker and a cancer screening navigator to help patients complete screening. The RCCHC navigator and CHW will receive training, supervision, and support from UNC Lineberger for the duration of this project. Targeted patients will include those reached during the daytime by our mobile health clinic as well as agricultural workers who visit the mobile clinic during evening hours. The funding will also support annual mailings of FIT kits to eligible patients.
Alison Brenner, Associate Director of the UNC Lineberger Carolina Cancer Screening Initiative and an Assistant Professor at the UNC School of Medicine, said “RCCHC’s long-standing commitment to improving access to colon cancer screening is really paying off -- for their patients, their workforce, and the counties they serve. The team at RCCHC has such an exceptional track record in working together and with researchers to improve patient care. Here at UNC Lineberger, we are really looking forward to lending support to this new RCCHC-led initiative. It promises to be very effective for helping patients stay up-to-date for colon cancer screening.”
UNC Lineberger’s mission is to improve cancer outcomes for all North Carolinians; thus, Lineberger will provide financial support for expenses related to follow-up colonoscopy services that are not already covered by another source (e.g. insurance or other charity care programs) on an as-needed basis.
The effort from RCCHC and UNC Lineberger fits into a nationwide movement to increase equity in cancer screening. “At HHS, we are doing all we can to make cancer prevention and screening services accessible to everyone in the United States,” said HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. “[This] investment in health centers is another step towards reducing disparities in cancer screenings across races, ethnicities, genders, and incomes—which is essential to realizing the President’s goal of ending cancer as we know it. This is also the latest action HHS is taking to address the estimated 9.5 million cancer screenings missed during the pandemic.”
To read the full press release from HHS, click here.