Strengthening Community-Based Cancer Care through Recovery Act Funding
Most cancer patients are treated at community hospitals – places patients are familiar with or located close to family. The nation’s major academic-based cancer centers, located mainly in large cities, are often out of reach for logistical and personal reasons.
Recognizing the enormous impact that community cancer centers have on cancer care in the United States, in 2007 NCI created the NCI Community Cancer Centers Program (NCCCP). NCI challenged a small group of 16 community hospitals from around the country to deliver an enhanced level of science-based cancer care and to support cancer research initiatives at their institutions. In 2009, having made strides in these areas, NCI devoted approximately $80 million in ARRA funding to expand the NCCCP network to 30 cancer centers in 22 states, bringing the latest scientific advances to more patients, and the potential for creating nearly 300 new jobs in the process.
“What’s wonderful about the NCCCP expansion enabled by the Recovery Act is there is a dual benefit to the communities -- through both job creation and the delivery of some of the latest evidence-based cancer treatments and preventive services that might otherwise be limited,” said Joy Beveridge, Clinical Project Manager III at SAIC-Frederick, Inc., the organization that administers the NCCCP. “The collaboration among hospitals in the expanded network fosters an exchange of best practices, and new staff are in place to help deliver these practices directly to cancer patients where they live.”
Kim Smith, ATC, CCRC, MBA, a clinical research associate at the NCCCP’s Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, California is a new Recovery Act hire. Smith was hired to educate Orange County residents about cancer screening and prevention clinical trials available to them. Smith’s job places special emphasis on identifying effective strategies to engage community physicians in minority communities to increase clinical trial accrual.
“Recovery Act funding created a full-time job for me to engage underserved patients and community physicians about clinical trials in our community,” Smith said. “Without the funding, St. Joseph’s would not have had the staff or resources to devote to this important project.”
In addition to Smith, Recovery Act funding created 12 new positions at St. Joseph’s, all of which directly support the NCCCP mission, including jobs in cancer research, clinical trial recruitment, biospecimens collection, and community outreach. Leilani Beck was hired as a patient navigator to work with Orange County’s Pacific Islander community. Those in medically underserved populations often face language, cultural or financial barriers to receiving optimal care. In her new role, Beck guides patients and their families through the cancer treatment process, helps schedule doctor’s appointments, and assists with financial and transportation issues.
“My job is to give patients a sense of hope and direction when facing cancer in a culturally sensitive manner,” Beck said. “They now have someone to help navigate them through the system when there wasn't someone before.”
A New Focus on Prevention and Education
Recovery Act funding has also allowed NCCCP hospitals to focus additional resources on preventive care.
In South Carolina, Kimberly Johnson, RN, OCN, a nurse navigator at the NCCCP’s Gibbs Regional Cancer Center at Spartanburg Regional Hospital in Spartanburg, is one of 11 new Recovery Act hires.
“With the economy the way it was, there just wasn’t a position for someone to focus solely on cancer prevention and education,” said Johnson. “The Recovery Act allows us to do more preventive care and early screening and detection.”
As a cancer survivor, Johnson understands the importance of information and educational resources for patients and their families making decisions about care. Last year, Johnson personally assisted 78 patients and their families throughout their cancer treatment journey.
Johnson’s colleague at Gibbs, Sharon Bartelt, RN, MSN, MBA, CPHQ, CSSBB, a manager of the MDC/navigation department, says this emphasis on prevention has been especially beneficial to underserved communities.
“We have always focused on underserved communities, but now we can expand our efforts to reach more individuals to get them into earlier screening and diagnosis services so that we can prevent more cancers or find them in their earliest, most treatable stages,” said Bartelt.
Hope for the Future
According to Smith, the most rewarding part about her new job is “knowing that by educating the community, we have the ability to change outcomes for patients.”
“If we can educate the public on the importance of screening and prevention and the available resources that are out there in the community, we can help to reduce some the cancer healthcare disparities in the future,” said Smith. “The Recovery Act funding allows all of the participating NCCCP hospitals to maintain the momentum we’ve generated over the past three years, and make even greater strides in the future.”