Closing the Cancer Gap in Homeless Adults One Sample at a Time

By Medline Newsroom Staff | September 30, 2019

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer-related death in America but in the past several decades the death rate has been on the decline, in part thanks to increased screenings.

While the American Cancer Society confirms screenings are a powerful weapon for preventing this disease, not all populations have equal access to them. In fact, studies reveal homeless populations are getting screened at a lower rate than the general population, and their cancer-related death rates are twice as high.

Camillus Health Concern, a federally qualified health center serving the Miami area, is fighting these disparities with help from Medline and the Medline Foundation.

In April, Medline and the Medline Foundation awarded Camillus Health Concern a $10,000 grant to help advance “Close the Gap,” an incentive-based program aimed at increasing colorectal cancer screening rates among the center’s homeless population. Funding was awarded through Medline’s Community Impact Grant Program for Community Health Centers.

Through the program, patients will receive free at-home colorectal screening tests known as Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT). Using the containers provided, patients collect a stool sample and return the test to the center for analysis. If an individual’s sample tests positive or shows an elevated risk, Camillus refers them to community partners for further evaluation.

The center will use Medline funds to purchase FITs to disperse among individuals, as well as $10 gift cards to award those who complete and return their FIT. Another health center in Miami found this incentive-based approach significantly increased screening-completion rates among this population.

“It can be hard with this patient population to get them to return the FIT, because they have other needs to prioritize, like getting food and shelter, and they may not have easy access to a bathroom, but there’s evidence that a patient-incentive can help motivate them to bring their samples back,” said Sarawasti Iobst, medical director of Camillus Health Concern.

Last year the center screened about 35% of its eligible patients, and is aiming to raise that number by 10% per year. Ninety-nine percent of the population it serves live 200% below the poverty line, and 75% lack insurance. Many of these patients, Iobst said, experience homelessness as well as serious mental illnesses.

The patient incentive is not the only component of Camillus’ larger engagement strategy. The center also has plans to host a Colorectal Cancer Awareness Day event for patients and the surrounding community. During the event, representatives of the center will share educational materials about colorectal cancer and screening and also encouraging patients to provide stool samples that day.

“We called it ‘poop on demand’,” Iobst said. “We did this a couple of years ago and that year our screening numbers rates were higher than they’d ever been. Since then, we haven’t had funding for it, but now that we do, we’re excited to bring it back. It’s important for raising awareness and getting the community aware of this unknown issue and engaged to do something about it.”

The Medline Foundation is accepting now grant applications for the Community Impact Grant Program for Community Health Centers. Applications are open now through November 1, 2019. Learn more about the Community Impact Grant Program and apply for a grant here.

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Medline Newsroom Staff

Medline Newsroom Staff

Medline's newsroom staff researches and reports on the latest news and trends in healthcare.

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