Hit­ting closer to home

Un­der­served pa­tients get bet­ter can­cer care at com­mu­nity cen­ters

Modern Healthcare - - OPINIONS COMMENTARY - Melissa Allen

Com­mu­nity can­cer cen­ters are the un­sung he­roes of can­cer care. They are where 85% of Amer­i­cans are di­ag­nosed and treated for can­cer. Un­like the large desti­na­tion can­cer cen­ters you read about in national news, com­mu­nity can­cer cen­ters dot the coun­try in ru­ral, sub­ur­ban and city lo­ca­tions as di­verse as the U.S. pop­u­la­tion it­self.

In 2007, my hos­pi­tal was for­tu­nate to be se­lected for the National Can­cer In­sti­tute’s Com­mu­nity Can­cer Cen­ters Pro­gram, a first-of-its-kind pro­gram to ex­plore ways for can­cer cen­ters such as ours to in­crease pa­tient ac­cess to the lat­est can­cer treat­ments and sup­port can­cer re­search, right in our own back­yards. NCI is learn­ing from this net­work of 30 hos­pi­tals in 22 states and is shar­ing lessons learned with com­mu­nity can­cer cen­ters na­tion­wide.

One as­pect that has fas­ci­nated all of us in the NCCCP is how we take a com­mon pro­gram goal—get­ting med­i­cally un­der­served pa­tients into a sys­tem of qual­ity can­cer care— and ap­proach it so dif­fer­ently based on the di­verse pop­u­la­tions that each net­work hos­pi­tal serves. Within our com­mu­ni­ties, we all serve pop­u­la­tions that have lim­ited ac­cess to can­cer care be­cause of dis­tance, lack of in­sur­ance or cul­tural mis­trust. We are ad­dress­ing these chal­lenges through a co­or­di­nated pro­gram of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and com­mu­nity outreach tai­lored to the spe­cific needs of the pop­u­la­tions we serve.

Mo­ti­vat­ing peo­ple to get screened for can­cer is never an easy task. So as com­mu­ni­ca­tors, we need to think out­side the box.

At St. Joseph’s/can­dler, we con­ducted a Pam­per Me Day at a com­mu­nity cen­ter run by our health sys­tem in one of Sa­van­nah’s pre­dom­i­nantly African-amer­i­can neigh­bor­hoods. As women re­ceived free mam­mo­grams, they en­joyed com­pli­men­tary man­i­cures, beauty tips and sam­ples, while watch­ing a live per­for­mance by neigh­bor­hood ac­tors that ad­dressed women’s fears, mis­con­cep­tions and rea­sons for not seek­ing mam­mo­grams. The lessons learned from this event led us to a broader on­go­ing part­ner­ship with sev­eral lo­cal churches. By build­ing strong re­la­tion­ships with church lead­er­ship, we’ve en­gaged res­i­dents in their spir­i­tual home and sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased can­cer screen­ings, es­pe­cially among those who have never been screened.

In Ba­ton Rouge, La., the NCCCP’S Can­cer or­ders has steadily worked to build the trust of the re­gion’s Hmong com­mu­nity, a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of South­east Asian refugees since the late 1970s. To reach mid­dle-age Hmong women who speak lit­tle English, last spring Gun­der­sen Lutheran of­fered free mam­mo­grams and Pap tests at a lo­cal health fair staffed by Hmong in­ter­preters and pro­moted through word of mouth, and posters in the city’s two Asian gro­cery stores.

In ru­ral Danville, Pa., Geisinger Can­cer Cen­ter serves a largely Penn­syl­va­nia-dutch pop­u­la­tion that stretches into coal coun­try. To mo­ti­vate men to get col­orec­tal can­cer screen­ings, Geisinger hosted a healthy cook­ing sem­i­nar led by the hos­pi­tal’s chef at a lo­cal golf club. As they sam­pled cui­sine made to pro­mote good col­orec­tal health, physi­cians pro­vided in­for­ma­tion and screen­ing kits to those who were in­ter­ested. Billed as a nice night out, more than 60 men came, many with their wives.

Early de­tec­tion saves lives. All NCCCP hos­pi­tals have poli­cies that all pa­tients screened at the can­cer cen­ter are of­fered fol­low-up care or treat­ment, re­gard­less of in­come and in­sur­ance sta­tus. The NCCCP is a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship funded by the National Can­cer In­sti­tute through con­gres­sional ap­pro­pri­a­tions and through match­ing funds from the pro­gram’s in­di­vid­ual can­cer cen­ters, mak­ing it a wise in­vest­ment for the fed­eral govern­ment and com­mu­ni­ties alike.

The in­no­va­tive outreach pro­grams we con­duct in Sa­van­nah may be dif­fer­ent from what my col­leagues do in Orange County, Calif., but that’s the beauty of the NCCCP net­work. What the NCI is learn­ing from us as it seeks to adapt best prac­tices in all ar­eas of can­cer care will one day help com­mu­nity can­cer cen­ters na­tion­wide. The NCCCP is a pro­gram worth sup­port­ing and we at St. Joseph’s/can­dler hope to see it around for a long time.

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