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“Massey on the Move” mobile health vans aim to combat cancer in Virginia’s underserved communities

Later this year, VCU Massey Cancer Center will deploy two mobile health education units to serve parts of central and southern Virginia.

The image has two paintings next to each other. The left side has several different people’s portraits with a colorful background. The right side has a little girl spinning around in a dress with butterflies around her. Vans funded by corporate and community grants will feature original artwork detailed above by two Richmond artists, Hamilton Glass (left) and Sir James Thornhill (right). (Contributed Photos)

By Katherine Layton

Despite progress, the cancer mortality rate among Black Virginians is still currently 14% higher than their white counter parts. A new mobile health initiative from VCU Massey Cancer Center is driven to combat barriers to accessibility for cancer patients by bringing care directly to their communities.

Two colorful “Massey on the Move” vans will be deployed later this year, thanks in part to a partnership among Massey Cancer Center, Dominion Energy and other sponsors. The vans will provide critical cancer education and outreach to people within traditionally underserved communities in central and southern Virginia. They also feature artwork by two Richmond-area artists, Hamilton Glass and Sir James Thornhill.

Once operational in mid-2023, the mobile units are expected to reach hundreds of community members in these areas monthly. The vans will provide cancer education, prevention, screening and care coordination services to under-resourced communities in Massey Cancer Center’s service area, including Petersburg, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Portsmouth, Martinsville and Brunswick County, as well as other priority areas of Virginia with the highest mortality rates for screenable cancers.

The mobile health education units are a critical part of Massey’s mission to combat cancer health disparities and improve outcomes for those diagnosed with cancer.

“Every person, no matter who they are or where they live, should have equal access to critical information and tools to help prevent and detect cancer, and to the most innovative treatments and care available,” said Robert A. Winn, M.D., Massey Cancer Center director and Lipman Chair in Oncology. “Reducing cancer disparities and improving outcomes for everyone in our community is our driving force. We will not rest until we achieve cancer health equity for all.”

Artists make their mark on the “Massey on the Move” vans.

Vanessa B. Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for Massey’s Community Outreach & Engagement and Health Disparities, is leading the initiative. Sheppard and her team work to reduce cancer health disparities by promoting the importance of cancer prevention, healthy living and regular screenings to help prevent and diagnose cancer early and to improve health outcomes.

“While cancer affects all populations, certain groups face a greater risk of developing or dying from cancer due to social, environmental and economic disadvantages,” Sheppard said. “Part of our work to change this dynamic is to focus on cancer hotspots – localities with higher-than-average cancer incidence and mortality rates – within our catchment area; the vans will help us better reach and serve those communities,” Sheppard said.

The initiative is funded through a $300,000 grant from The Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation’s Social Justice Grants Initiative, which supports nonprofit organizations addressing the fundamental causes of systemic inequity, including health disparities that impact Black and African Americans.

“The COVID-19 pandemic widened health disparity gaps among our communities over these past few years,” said Hunter A. Applewhite, president of the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation. “The VCU Massey Cancer Center mobile health vans will provide essential health care to several communities most impacted by the social determinants of health. Our hope is for this contribution to make a lasting impact in the fight for health equity.”

A $150,000 grant from Bank of America funded educational materials that will be distributed from the vans. Part of the bank’s $1.25 billion national commitment to advance racial equality and opportunity, the materials will focus on cancer prevention and screenings, and healthy living and wellness. Additional funding for the “Massey on the Move” van operations was provided by the Jenkins Foundation and the Shelton Short Trust.

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