The Michigan Health Endowment Fund has awarded researchers a $100,000 Community Health Impact Grant to support a new program addressing financial toxicity in cancer patients. Michigan Community Outreach to Address Financial Toxicity, or MI-COST, will build on ongoing community outreach and engagement work within the Karmanos Cancer Institute’s Office of Health Equity and Community Engagement .
MI-COST’s goals include developing a series of educational seminars on topics designed to help people with cancer and their caregivers overcome related financial barriers, and creating a website to provide patients and caregivers with information and financial resources. The Office of Cancer Health Equity and Community Engagement has worked closely with 11 Cancer Action Councils throughout Michigan to gather insights into the needs of cancer patients. CCCs are groups of cancer survivors, caregivers and advocates who apply their knowledge of local cancer issues to improve the lives of patients, survivors and caregivers in their communities. In 2019, financial hardship was a theme that emerged in many CCC conversations.
“One of our roles at OCHECE is to connect our communities to our scientists and our scientists to our communities to ensure community contribution to the research program at our cancer center,” said Hayley Thompson , Ph.D., Co-Investigator for the MI-COST Program, Associate Director of the Center for Community Outreach and Engagement at Karmanos, and Professor of Oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. “One of those strategies to do that is to have this network of CCCs that represent different areas, different regions, different populations and different communities. They help us understand what to prioritize in cancer research based on the needs and disparities they see around them in their communities. When we mixed the councils into different sub-groups, financial difficulties emerged as a top priority and the area they wanted to address as a larger network.
Theresa Hastert, Ph.D., assistant professor of oncology in the School of Medicine and member of the Demographic Studies and Disparities research program at Karmanos, is the principal investigator of MI-COST. Dr. Hastert approached this opportunity from a research perspective, beginning with early conversations between CCCs. Instead of a more traditional method of creating a survey for CCC members to answer and surveyors determining what is needed based on themes, it reverses the process.
“I have a lot of experience working with data we’ve already collected, but the data we collect through a survey is only as good as the questions we ask,” Dr. Hastert said. “By allowing CCC members to communicate, we get richer insights into the impact of finances when cancer entered their lives and what would have been helpful to them at that time. And we incorporate that information into what we do. It’s a valuable and unique opportunity as a researcher to make your work more impactful for the people you ultimately want to help.
With the $100,000 grant, researchers began developing seminars and a digital resource. A Community Advisory Board, which includes CAC members, cancer survivors, caregivers, providers and community organizations, will help determine which topics and features will be included.
Find more information about the Office of Cancer Health Equity and Community Engagement and its outreach activities in 46 Michigan counties at karmanos.org/officeofcommunity.