Putting Research Into Action: Community Outreach and Engagement

A Q+A with Nicole Bayne and Maya Lipsman

February 28, 2024

The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) is committed to reducing the burden of cancer, not only for patients who walk through the door, but also for members of the greater community. The HICCC’s catchment area — the five New York City boroughs, Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York, and Bergen County in New Jersey — is home to a richly diverse population across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Maya Lipsman, CPiA Staten Island Project Director, tabling at the NYPD Community Affairs’ Kids Festival in Staten Island to provide free sunscreen, SPF lip balm, and print information to over 500 school-aged children and their families.

The Community Outreach and Engagement Office (COE) facilitates a link between the HICCC and the population it serves, putting research into action through events and programs centered around cancer prevention, screening, education, and more. The office closely collaborates with community partners and stakeholders to conduct outreach, ensuring communities have access to evidence-based prevention and treatment services.

Below, Maya Lipsman, MPH, senior project coordinator, and Nicole Bayne, MPH, RN, project manager, discuss how the COE works to understand the needs of the communities and patients served by the HICCC and remove access barriers to cancer prevention, screening, treatment, and survivorship services.

What are the main goals of the COE? How does it help the HICCC serve the greater community?

Bayne: Our goals are to monitor and track the cancer burden in the catchment area and then engage in proactive outreach, both to inform people within the communities and to connect them to the appropriate resources. We also promote and support HICCC investigators in research that is relevant to the communities, particularly when it comes to intervention-based research. As opposed to just identifying the problem, we want to find ways to mitigate the barriers or disparities in health outcomes.

Lipsman: The COE is an integration of research and community work to act on that research. For example, studies have shown that the communities would benefit from greater accessibility to cancer screenings, so we have multiple programs to address that need. We also have programbased grants, like the ones that Nicole and I oversee, that have a specific purpose and target area.

Could you each highlight the program you oversee and describe how it reduces cancer burden in the community?

Mary Beth Terry, Columbia/COMMUNITY Principal Investigator; Elizabeth Cohn, Northwell Health/COMMUNITY Principal Investigator; Marisol Castellano, Columbia/COMMUNITY Investigator Development Core Project Manager; Nicole Bayne, Columbia/COMMUNITY Project Manager; Jonathan C. Cho, PAGNY Chief Operating Officer, COMMUNITY MPI

Lipsman: I oversee a program called Cancer Prevention in Action (CPiA), which started in May of 2021 and will go through April of 2025, based on a grant from the New York State Department of Health and Health Research, Inc. CPiA aims to reduce skin cancer rates in Staten Island by raising awareness about the dangers of indoor tanning and the importance of sun safety practices, like seeking shade and using sunscreen. We have worked closely with 16 local community organizations to enact environmental changes, such as installing sunscreen dispensers, more shade, and signage to remind visitors to be sun safe.

Under CPiA, we also promote human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for adolescents across Staten Island. HPV vaccination can prevent over 90 percent of cancers caused by HPV, yet Staten Island has the lowest rate of HPV vaccination in New York City. The goal there is education for parents, youth, community members, and healthcare providers about HPV vaccination.

Bayne: And I oversee the COE’s work involving the Center to Improve Chronic Disease Outcomes through Multi-level and Multi-generational Approaches Unifying Novel Interventions and Training for Health Equity (COMMUNITY Center). The COMMUNITY Center came about in 2021, funded by the National Institute for Minority Health Disparities (NIMHD) as part of a multi-institutional effort to reduce health disparities amongst minority populations in New York City.

We fund community-based organizations focused on improving community health and health outcomes. For instance, the HICCC specifically provides funding for an organization that helps individuals who have cancer engage in safe movement through exercise and dance classes. On the research end, we have multiple projects, one of which aims to connect with faith-based organizations to increase rates of colorectal cancer screening.

How important is the participation of community health workers? How do they impact the COE’s work?

Bayne: The community health workers have been involved from the very early stages of the COMMUNITY grant, giving feedback to tailor these interventions to their communities. Now that the research projects have launched, they're actively out in the community, making those connections, providing information and support to people who have questions about cancer screening and becoming involved in this research. In addition, many were trained and hired through the Columbia's Center for Community Health.

TrustWorkers Photovoice Exhibit 2022 - Featuring CHWs at the Frontlines of Public Health

What is the importance of having an office like the COE, especially in such a research-driven institution like Columbia?

Lipsman: There is so much important work being done at Columbia — the research is groundbreaking, and every year new findings come out that are important for the community to know when they're thinking about their health. But there's a huge block between something being published in a scientific journal and the community reading or hearing about it. Our job at the COE is to use our connections to educate the community about what they can do to reduce their risk of cancer.