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Nearly 1,000 Virginians served by “Massey on the Move” mobile health vans

The vans offer an entry point for community members to connect with vital cancer education and cancer screenings.

Group of smiling people standing in front of a yellow van. First Baptist Church of South Richmond, Facts & Faith Fridays and VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center's Community Outreach and Engagement and Clinical Trials Office teams collaborated for the enrollment event. (VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center)

By Annie Harris

VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center deployed two mobile health vans this fall that deliver cancer education and awareness to traditionally underserved communities across central and southern Virginia.

Since the launch, the vans have reached nearly 1,000 people at events across the cancer center’s catchment area. Massey’s Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) team has also had hundreds of one-on-one conversations with Virginians to encourage healthy lifestyle practices and cancer screenings.

The “Massey on the Move” vans offer an entry point for community members to connect with Massey’s COE initiatives and partners to activate healthy lifestyle behaviors and risk-reducing practices. To date, van events have prompted 40 people to sign up for prevention educational sessions, including “We CAN Quit,” Massey’s free tobacco cessation program that helps people stop using tobacco, “We Can Eat Well” nutrition program and “We Can Take Action” empowerment education conversations to address health literacy gaps, cancer prevention and early detection.

Additionally, Michael Gesme, M.P.A., senior program manager for community outreach and engagement on Massey’s COE team, says approximately two dozen people from the “Massey on the Move” van events have been referred to the cancer center’s navigation services to address an individual’s barrier to screening tests, diagnostic follow-up tests, cancer treatment services and state-of-the-art clinical trials.

“We’re providing critical education about cancer prevention and screenings that we believe will help us address the higher cancer mortality rates that Massey has identified in communities the vans are visiting,” Gesme said. “To see connections being made between people and our trained navigators to make sure they can access the resources they need has been incredibly rewarding.”

Group of people standing in front of a van for a ribbon cutting ceremony

Earlier this month, Massey leaders, volunteers and corporate sponsors gathered for a ribbon-cutting event to celebrate the “Massey on the Move” launch. (From left to right: Paula Fracasso, Debbie Bryant, Hunter Applewhite, Sir James Thornhill, Becky Massey, Vanessa Sheppard, Rashida Gray, Victor Branch) (VCU Massey Comprehensive Cancer Center)

Taking it to the streets

Van events began in August at First Baptist Church of South Richmond. Along with Massey’s Facts & Faith Fridays community, the van’s community outreach team provided information about the benefits of clinical trials and allowed people to participate in a cancer screening trial involving a simple blood test, right from the parking lot outside the church.

In October, the van rolled up to Charles City for a breast cancer screening event co-hosted with the Chickahominy Tribal Center and Sentara Health. In addition to partnering with “Massey on the Move” for a screening event, the Chickahominy Tribe collaborates with Massey researchers on the T.R.U.T.H. project, a community-academic partnership, to investigate perceived and actual cancer risk in Charles City County.

While the vans have had a strong presence in greater Richmond and the Tri-Cities area, Tappahannock and Lawrenceville, next year Massey plans to deploy the vans further to areas including Danville, Nottoway County and Portsmouth.

Jeanette Grimes, a Brunswick Health Ambassadors community health worker from the Virginia Department of Health, has seen the mobile health vans in action.

“It is very well equipped to host a visitor comfortably while receiving educational materials and insight from the staff. I am impressed by the encompassing work being accomplished by this community endeavor, and I am glad to be able to share with other community members how beneficial the van can be for them,” she said.

Massey’s dedication to working with people beyond the typical clinical setting is recognized on the national level. Recently, Massey received the National Cancer Institute designation as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, which Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., associate director for community outreach & engagement and health disparities, says reflects a commitment to engaging the community in every aspect of its work.

“We all know that if you have great advances in science, but it can’t get to the people who need them, then how good is that?” Sheppard said. “So how are we going to do this? We’re going to take it to the streets with ‘Massey on the Move.’ We’re going into communities across our catchment area, prioritizing those that have the highest burden of cancer – we’re going to meet people where they live, where they work, and we’re going to work to build trust, to ultimately save lives.”

The vans are funded through a $300,000 grant from The Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation’s Social Justice Grants Initiative, which supports organizations addressing the fundamental causes of systemic inequity, including health disparities. A $150,000 grant from Bank of America funded the educational materials that are distributed from the vans, focusing on cancer prevention and screening information as well as general health and wellness guidance.