Queens Library HealthLink (HL) is a collaboration among the library, Queens Cancer Center of Queens Hospital, the American Cancer Society, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, which uses the public library system to increase access to cancer screening, care, and education among medically underserved communities in Queens. Healthlink started in 2007, and added Community Health Day as an annual event in 2009. The program won an Urban Libraries Council Top Innovations award in 2010.
But far from resting on its laurels, in 2011 the library decided to take it to the next level by involving the teachers and center managers from its English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes and asking them to actively help recruit, so as to better reach the high number of marginalized foreign-born individuals who were not receiving adequate health screening.
“Much of our decision to target ESOL students was based on strong input from HL’s Cancer Action Council members–dedicated groups of survivors, caregivers, patients, and others who have been touched in some way by cancer,” the library said in a statement. “After HL Cancer Action Council members observed who in their communities were most heavily burdened by cancer, they made the decision to reach out to ESOL students in particular with preventive information. “
Nearly half—46 percent—of Queens residents were born outside the U.S. That makes this program especially important, since research shows immigrants are less likely to receive cancer screenings than their American-born neighbors. Exacerbating the problem, one-eighth of Queens’ residents live in poverty, according to census numbers, and when individuals or families face financial constraints, they are less likely to engage in preventive health behaviors, like cancer screenings. (Sadly, the library has confirmation that these national trends are having their expected effect locally: according to data collected by the Queens Cancer Center, Queens has much higher rates of late stage cancer detection for the most life-threatening and common cancers. The late stage detection rates for breast and prostate cancers in Queens are approximately six times greater than they are nationally.
HealthLink chose to partner with Queens Cancer Center because it has been honored for quality care, is open to all people regardless of their insurance status or their ability to pay, and already services the target population: patients of Queens Cancer Center speak approximately 140 different languages and more than 80 percent live below the poverty level.
With the help of ESOL instructors, HealthLink organized a large group of ESOL students from different classes throughout Queens. HL staff members met students at their home libraries and traveled with them to Community Health Day at the Center, ensuring that students learned the route so they could travel to Queens Cancer Center for future appointments independently. Students were reimbursed for the cost of transportation.
On the day of the event, Linda Bulone, Queens Cancer Center Clinical Trials Manager and Registered Nurse, and Lisa Marini, Associate Director of Queens Quits (the smoking cessation program at Queens Hospital Center) spoke about smoking cessation, cancer prevention and control, and how to access Queens Cancer Center and its services. ”
All information was presented at a low-literacy level and was accompanied by visuals to ensure that new English learners could follow along. The staff led students on a tour, introduced them to their medical and social services colleagues, demonstrated medical equipment, and discussed how to make appointments, and students were given the opportunity to make appointments for a cancer screening on the spot.
ESOL student Rajae Baba, a 35-year-old woman who moved to the U.S. from Casablanca, Morocco, after her husband lost his job, told HealthLink that before attending Community Health Day, Baba was completely unaware about the need for men, like her husband, to have a conversation with their doctors about beginning screenings for prostate cancer once they reach age 50. Directly following Community Health Day, Baba initiated a conversation with her family members about the care they should be receiving.
Baba and fellow student Francia Duque, a 28-year-old woman from Cartago, Colombia, said they’d never been administered medical tests in their home countries. And while both had received medical tests in the United States, neither had the tests explained. At Community Health Day, they were taught to ask questions during medical interactions, and that they were entitled to request interpretive services if they don’t understand information delivered in English.
Said Thomas W. Galante, President and CEO of Queens Library, “Queens Library is a primary information source, both for the content we provide and because of the credibility we have with the community. We play a unique role in guiding the community toward more proactive healthcare.”
The library is in the process of coordinating its fourth Community Health Day. In the meantime, the library will present a panel about prevention, detection and treatment of common cancers, featuring doctors and social workers from Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New York Hospital Queens, NYU Langone Medical Center, the American Cancer Society, and the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society, on Wednesday November 7 and Wednesday November 28, both live and by webcast and free teleconference.
Jasmine Jacobs is an intern at Queens Library’s HealthLink; Tamara Michel is HealthLink Community Outreach Coordinator; and Judy Trupin is a teacher of ESOL.