BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — That’s why Mercy Health has six dedicated oncology nurse navigators to answer questions and provide guidance and support every step of the way.
“It’s very overwhelming. That’s why we serve as their advocate, linking them with their care team, coordinating tests and treatment and supporting them along the way,” said Kelly Clark, Mercy Health oncology nurse navigator. “We stay with them on their entire journey.”
Referrals to the Oncology Nurse Navigation program can come from any health care provider, and patients can even self-refer. The cases are assigned to the navigator who specializes in that primary cancer site.
“We start by identifying barriers to care, whether it’s transportation, finances or insurance concerns, and then get to work connecting them to resources,” said Lori Parker, Mercy Health Oncology Ancillary Serv-ices manager.
Navigators can help patients apply for disability benefits or fill out paperwork for the Family and Medical Leave Act. Some patients might require nutrition counseling to address needs such as weight management or difficulty eating.
Others might need dental work before head or neck surgery. An oncology chaplain is available to address spiritual needs. If dealing with psychosocial needs, a social worker can help.
For newly diagnosed patients without a primary care provider, navigators connect them to one and ensure timely access to care.
Those first few visits can be a whirlwind, and some studies show that patients only remember 10 to 15 percent of what is shared in an office visit after a cancer diagnosis. All they remember is the word cancer, so much of the navigator’s job may include answering the same questions several times. Sometimes, patients just need a shoulder to cry on – and both Parker and Clark have been in that position.
“They’re scared. Most people hear ‘cancer,’ and they always think it’s a terminal diagnosis,” Clark said. “We educate them on the treatment process while providing encouragement and emotional support.”
The Mercy Health Oncology Nurse Navigation program was initially developed to support breast cancer patients but has expanded over the years to serve all cancer types. Six navigators serve patients in Mercy Health’s cancer care locations in Defiance, Oregon, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Tiffin and Toledo.
“Our program allows us to expedite care, getting patients in for testing, treatment and follow-up much faster than without the assistance of a navigator,” said Parker.
As the program has grown, the team members have worked on honing their knowledge in order to provide the best service. The navigators are continuously involved in educational opportunities, and several hold certifications in oncology nurse navigation.
The navigation team directs patients to a variety of local resources. The Victory Center, for example, offers massage, exercise therapy and a wig bank, among many other services. The Ovarian Cancer Connection provides emotional and financial support to women facing gynecologic cancers, and Nightin-gale’s Harvest provides food to cancer patients in need.
“If our patients have a question, they can just ask us,” Clark said. “This is the most rewarding job, because patients appreciate our help.”
For more information on the Mercy Health Oncology Nurse Navigation program, call (419) 407-2345.