LAWRENCEVILLE - Terri Lewinson has perhaps one of the greatest - and most challenging - jobs at Gwinnett Medical Center. As an American Cancer Society Patient Resource Navigator, she helps those recently diagnosed with cancer better manage the tumultuous road ahead.
Her role could be as simple as being a shoulder to cry on. Or as complex as finding a patient the proper insurance to receive prescribed medications.
"For a while, it's kind of like (patients) are in this tunnel, like they are on autopilot," Lewinson said. "I think it really just helps them ground themselves. We say, 'OK, this is what's going on with you. Here's some information so that you can make informed decisions.' We give them the necessary information because sometimes you can be inundated with information and it becomes overwhelming."
Lewinson's position is a new addition to GMC's unique partnership with the American Cancer Society, which established a breast cancer Patient Resource Navigator program at the hospital three years ago. Now, patients with virtually all forms of cancer are contacted and asked if they need assistance. GMC oncology services manager Cindy Snyder said the hospital's partnership with the American Cancer Society is a revolution in the health care industry. In the past, she said, hospital's were reluctant to collaborate with outside organizations.
"It's a very good collaborative effort on both parts to make it work," she said. "(The American Cancer Society) traditionally not too long ago sat back and waited for patients to call them. But this is a new approach to be proactive and reach out and give (patients) the resources they need."
The cancer navigator program is a jack-of-all-trades resource center. No patient is alike. Some only need emotional support while others need social and financial resources. Recently, Lewinson helped a patient's wife who was distraught with money issues looming at home.
"Our role there was to help and surround her with resources so that she could then focus her attention back on her husband," she said.
There are currently 19 Patient Resource Navigators in the American Cancer Society's southern division, which serves Georgia, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. The overall goal is to have 29 throughout the division.
Lewinson's function at GMC also helps its medical professionals focus on what they do best - treating patients.
"They are not able to really address (concerns) with the nurse because the nurse might be there to help with vital signs, chemotherapy and making sure the patient is OK and not so much, 'Do you have housing when you go home?'"