A helping hand
Cancer society to offer on site resource expert at GMC

The American Cancer Society and Gwinnett Medical Center are teaming up to provide hospital cancer patients with a new, complimentary service.

With the goal of reaching more newly diagnosed cancer patients, the cancer-focused nonprofit is planning to staff the medical center with a person trained to provide education and support to those diagnosed with the disease.

Called a Patient Resource Navigator, the staff member would make contact with all cancer patients coming into the hospital, providing support and making sure patients continue with follow-up treatments after diagnosis.

Gwinnett Medical Center would be the sixth Georgia hospital to have this type of staff member and would make for the third in metro Atlanta, joining Grady Memorial Hospital and Atlanta Medical Center.

ACS South Atlantic Division CEO Jack Shipkoski said the idea for what he explained as a type of "cancer response system" was developed about 4 years ago by cancer society board of directors.

"This is an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive," Shipkoski said. Typically the society provides the tools for patients, leaving it up to them to contact the nonprofit for resources. Now, with the navigator, the ACS is seeking out cancer patients to give them help throughout their cancer journey.

While the program is still relatively new, Shipkoski said the South Atlanta Division already has about 27 patient navigators in hospitals throughout the region. He said navigators are staffed in hospitals that diagnose 1,000 or more cancer patients yearly and though technically a American Cancer Society employee, he said the navigator program is a 50/50 partnership.

Shipkoski said the ACS and the hospitals split the expenses of the program, which costs about $100,000 a year.

Thus far, Shipkoski said the cancer society has received positive feedback from patients using the navigator program. He said feedback about the potential of such a program in Gwinnett has also been favorable.

"We're excited about Gwinnett because the community is excited," Shipkoski said.

The cancer society is aiming at having a Patient Resource Navigator in place at GMC's Lawrenceville campus by the end of February.

"If you look at why we exist, you'll see that our goal is to save lives from cancer," Shipkoski said. "We want to prevent cancer and improve quality of life."

Terri Lewinson, Patient Resource Navigator at Atlanta Medical Center, has been the navigator at the Atlanta-based hospital for nearly two years and said she sees new cancer patients come into the hospital daily.

"I'm mostly giving them information," Lewinson said. "They're coming into the hospital and they're not sure what questions to ask doctors."

Lewinson said she makes sure patients understand what will happen during treatments like chemotherapy and also provides support for the patients' family members.

"I give them tours, take them into the infusion room and let them see what radiation therapy is like," Lewinson explained. "That way they're not so scared."

Lewinson, who holds a doctorate in social work said her goal is to develop relationships with the patients, giving them someone they can feel comfortable talking to and asking questions.

"We want to give them the reassurance someone is there for them," Lewinson said. "We're going to hold their hand if that's what they need or be there and let them cry if they just need to cry."