Steering a Path to Recovery
Hunt Cancer Institute Nurse Navigator program helps guide the way.
Getting a diagnosis of cancer is devastating enough on its own. But as anyone who has tackled cancer or any serious disease knows, that’s just the beginning. The steps toward treatment—making decisions, scheduling and keeping appointments, dealing with insurance companies, seeking a second opinion and often just showing up—can be almost as overwhelming as the disease itself.
Torrance Memorial’s Hunt Cancer Institute offers a full-service Nurse Navigator program to help guide patients along the path to recovery by helping them make informed medical decisions and assisting with scheduling multiple doctor appointments and tests. Navigators also provide help when it comes to coping with a patient’s prognosis, making sure they stay on track with their treatment plans, running interference on insurance issues and offering emotional support–all at no additional charge to patients.
“As a Nurse Navigator, I see my role as a coordinator of care for patients when they are not in the hospital to help educate them, coordinate logistics for appointments and treatments, assist with care transitions and offer ongoing counseling and support services,” says Torrance Memorial oncology Nurse Navigator Anne Milliken, RN, BSN, OCN. “The personalized nursing care we provide to our newly diagnosed cancer patients is what sets us apart from other comprehensive cancer centers in the South Bay.”
Patients who are admitted for surgery are taken care of by the doctors and nurses on staff. “But when they are outpatients, they must deal with many different doctors, tests and treatments on their own,” Milliken explains. “I make sure they understand why they’re seeing each doctor or getting each test and streamline the process as much as I can so they always know there is one person they can reach out to for questions and support.”
This kind of access to answers is invaluable to patients, as Evelyn V. Calip, BSN, RN, a Hunt Cancer Institute oncology Nurse Navigator and a breast cancer survivor herself knows. Every time a patient sees her, she understands she is benefiting them in three crucial areas: education, coordination of patient appointments and assessing barriers to their care.
The Role of a Nurse Navigator Includes:
“We explain a diagnosis and treatment plan,” Calip says. “We let patients know what to expect before, during and after surgery, and what it will be like in the hospital. I teach a pre-op class for patients who will have mastectomy and breast reconstruction to prepare them before surgery and how to care for themselves at home after surgery. I bring in patients who have been through it to talk to them by facilitating a mastectomy/breast reconstruction support group. Currently due to COVID-19, these classes and support groups are held every month virtually (on Zoom).”
Coordination of Patient Appointments.
Helping patients keep track of and schedule appointments is a key role of Nurse Navigators. “I’ve been known to make a phone call or send an email to speed up booking,” Calip says.
Assessing Barriers to Care.
This includes financial, transportation and language barriers. “We will use Language Line Solutions to access an interpreter via phone or iPad who can translate if there is a language barrier, or arrange transportation with American Cancer Society,” she adds. “We can even find a way to help them financially, if they are underinsured, through Torrance Memorial’s financial assistance program or a support group like Evelyn’s BFF.”
Cancer survivorship coordinator Miriam Sleven, RN, MS, OCN, segues patients as they complete treatment and move forward with their lives. “I believe every nurse navigates patients,” Sleven says. “Whether at the bedside, answering questions or discussing next steps—you are always navigating.”
Sleven, who has been a nurse since 1976, began working in oncology in 1980. She developed Torrance Memorial’s cancer survivorship program, which started with breast cancer survivors and comprises a host of resources including support groups, physical therapy and rehab, counseling, and a care package filled with tools and recommendations.
“We talked to women who had completed treatment, and when we understood what was happening with them—what their issues and needs were—we were able to create customized action plans to help them cope with issues such as insomnia, menopausal symptoms and depression,” she explains. “One of my most important roles now is as a coach. I help survivors practice talking to their doctors and asking questions so they will get the answers they need—that, and serving as their advocate.”
She adds: “Sometimes that means getting through to the right person and finding resources such as transportation or counseling. In a system where you are seeing three or four different doctors, having a person to talk to and lean on is absolutely necessary.”