Cancer Center Researcher Receives $3.3 Million Grant from the National Institutes of Health to Improve Health Outcomes for Homeless Adults

A researcher from the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center (OTRC) at the Stephenson Cancer Center is developing a custom smartphone app to improve health outcomes for homeless adults. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently funded this research with a $3.3 million R01 grant. NIH R01 grants are the oldest and most prestigious type of cancer research grants.

The Link2Care app will offer recently incarcerated homeless adults the opportunity to connect to a case manager through the touch of the button. The app will also offer links to crisis management and other services on-demand.

“The aim of the Link2Care app is to increase the use of already available case management services, and thereby, help homeless adults to reduce alcohol use, drug use, psychological distress, and ultimately reduce homeless nights and re-arrest,” said Michael Businelle, PhD, a lead investigator on this project.

Homeless adults who receive counseling and case management services upon their release from jail experience fewer mental health and substance abuse problems, are more likely to obtain stable housing, and are less likely to be re-incarcerated, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars. Yet, barriers such as transportation and limited access to information prevent homeless adults from accessing these already available resources.

“The use of technology to reduce barriers to service utilization among at-risk and hard-to-reach populations has great potential for intervention science,” said Businelle, a lead investigator on this project. “This study aims to reduce barriers to service utilization by bringing case management services to homeless individuals via an innovative smartphone app.”

Another aim of this study is to use smartphone-based and in-person assessments to pinpoint variables that predict substance use, psychological distress, homelessness, and re-arrest.

The Link2Care app will be developed by the OTRC’s Mobile Health (mHealth) Shared Resource, which is directed by Businelle. The mHealth resource works with researchers to create innovative web- and mobile-based applications that identify and intervene upon environmental, cognitive, affective, physiological, and behavioral antecedents of health risk factors.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, University of Texas School of Public Health, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and University of Kentucky are project investigators. The five-year study will enroll 432 participants from a Dallas-based Homeless Recovery Program.

The study is funded through a National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant from the NIH (1R01MD010733-01A1). Businelle's research is also funded through the generous support of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).