Experience of a National Cancer Institute-Designated Community Outreach and Engagement Program in Supporting Communities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jessica D. Austin, Kimberly Burke, Erica J.Lee Argov, Grace C. Hillyer, Karen M. Schmitt, Jasmine McDonald, Rachel C. Shelton, Mary Beth Terry, Parisa Tehranifar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVD-19) continues to disrupt cancer care delivery efforts and exacerbate existing health inequities. Here we describe the impact of COVID-19 on community outreach organizations partnering with a National Cancer Institute—designated Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) office in New York City (NYC) and lessons learned from these experiences. Between July and September of 2020, we conducted 16 semi-structured interviews with community key-informants to validate and inform efforts to support community organizations in response to COVID-19. Key-informants represented organizations performing a broad range of health and cancer care activities serving historically underserved, low-income, marginalized communities of color in NYC. All interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using rapid qualitative approaches. We summarize our response to challenges raised by partnering organizations. Themes included the impact of COVID-19 on communities served, challenges faced by organizations, and solutions to address COVID-19 related challenges. The COE and community organizations had to shift priorities and adapt engagement efforts to address the more urgent needs of the community (e.g., emotional distress, food insecurity). COVID-19 disrupted traditional community engagement activities for cancer outreach—calling for creativity and innovation in the community engagement process and shift in priorities. The COE responded by maintaining ongoing dialogue with community partners, by being flexible in scope/priorities beyond cancer prevention and control, and by providing education, outreach, fundraising and other resources, and developing new partnerships to meet needs of community organizations and the populations they serve.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Community Health
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Cancer
  • Community engagement
  • Equity
  • Outreach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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