By Joseph D. Bryant
December begins a yearlong commemoration marking the 25th anniversary of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB.
Since its creation in 1995, the office has dedicated itself to increasing cancer education and awareness in medically underserved populations and addressing health disparities throughout Alabama and beyond.
A series of public virtual activities is planned throughout 2021 to mark the office’s landmark year and showcase the history of the office and how it has evolved to positively impact communities in the future. The first event is a virtual “Fireside Chat” featuring pioneers of the office, including Edward Partridge, M.D., former director of the Cancer Center, who will discuss the earliest days of outreach initiatives.
“This office speaks to the heart of the mission of our Cancer Center by understanding the unique needs of communities and bringing information, groundbreaking research and access to high-quality clinical care directly to people who otherwise might not receive them,” said Monica Baskin, Ph.D., associate director for Community Outreach and Engagement at the O’Neal Cancer Center. “Countless lives have been positively impacted as this office delivers essential messages of cancer prevention, detection and healthy living.”
Over time, the office has expanded its outreach focus from breast and cervical cancers to include other cancers such as colorectal, lung, prostate, brain tumors and multiple myeloma, which is a rare type of blood cancer. Health education activities also extend into the state of Mississippi.
Community health advisers (CHA) have been key to the success of the office throughout the years. The advisers play a vital role in connecting the O’Neal Cancer Center and its researchers to communities that are most in need of cancer-related health information. CHAs often take complex data and interpret it in ways that can be better understood by non-medical audiences.
Over the past 20 years, the office has trained more than 2,000 CHAs, with more than 400 currently active.
“The success that our office has had in engaging communities has been based largely on use of the community health adviser model and the relationships that CHAs have helped us develop and expand,” said Claudia Hardy, MPA, program director of the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement. “Work from this office has made a measurable impact in addressing and reducing disparities. I’m proud of our ability to translate research and make it relevant to people.