West Penn Allegheny Health System Nurse Navigators Lead the Way For Breast Cancer Patients

New Program Provides Women with Lifelong Guidance and Support Through Diagnosis, Treatment and Survivorship

A breast cancer diagnosis brings with it fear and panic. Questions race through a woman’s mind: What will happen to me? What will my treatment be like? How will I manage?

It is at that moment when the new Nurse Navigator program at West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) steps in. The Nurse Navigator will provide women with compassionate guidance through their initial diagnosis, through treatment and into survivorship, serving as a lifelong, trusted ally for cancer patients and survivors.

“Our Nurse Navigators will be our breast cancer patients’ lifeline for care – answering questions, planning treatment and helping ease their fears,” said David S. Parda, MD, FACP, radiation oncologist and Chair of the West Penn Allegheny Health System Oncology Service Line. “As soon as a patient is diagnosed, a Nurse Navigator will begin supplying her with information and offering emotional support.

“As our medical experts work as a team to fight the patient’s cancer using  the most advanced diagnostic and treatment services available, the Nurse Navigators will make sure that patients are aware of their options and that they get the support they need, be it medical, emotional or logistical,” Dr. Parda continued.

The Nurse Navigator program is modeled after that of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, which has trained West Penn Allegheny’s Nurse Navigators. West Penn Allegheny joins other elite medical centers such as Stanford and Johns Hopkins in offering this emerging concept to patients.

Experienced nurses Marianne Jeffries, RN, BSN; Heather Kennihan, RN, BSN, OCN; Marilyn Holmes, RN;  and Karen Schwaderer, RN, BSN, OCN, are serving as the first Nurse Navigators. The program will be offered to breast cancer patients at Allegheny General Hospital starting March 1 and is already in place at Forbes Regional Hospital. Plans are to extend it throughout the West Penn Allegheny Health System and to patients diagnosed with other types of cancer.

“When a patient is diagnosed, our goal is calm them and reassure them that we are putting a plan in place and that they are going to receive personalized care,” said Crystal Ross, Director of Hospital Operations at Allegheny General Hospital and coordinator of the Nurse Navigator program.

“Treatment is a difficult time for many reasons,” Ms. Ross added. “We want to make it easy for patients to coordinate their care, to ensure a streamlined approach.

“Survivorship brings relief but also a whole new set of challenges.  Women continue to need information, compassion and support as they move through this phase of their journey. Our services continue through the patient’s lifetime,” she continued.

For patients, The Nurse Navigator is a one-stop, main point of contact. Patients today may see a breast surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, a radiologist, a plastic surgeon, a geneticist, endocrinologist, gynecologist or internist/family practitioner among other doctors and other support services often at different locations. The Nurse Navigator helps fill in the gaps between the various treatment lines and ensure smooth scheduling of appointments.

She may also refer patients to one of West Penn Allegheny Health System’s 22 locations for cancer care throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, where they can receive treatment without traveling far from home.

The Nurse Navigator ensures that the patient is educated about all her options, and the pros and cons of each, so that she has enough information to make the deeply individual decision about her treatment. She may refer the patient to clinical trials when appropriate.

The Nurse Navigator will also connect patients with outside resources as needed, such as financial counselors, support groups or outlets for merchandise such as scarves and wigs.

“This relationship continues throughout the patient’s life. Even after the cancer is gone, the fear never goes away,” Ms. Ross said. We want to be there to educate, to find the resources the survivor needs, and simply to be a listening ear for their concerns as they move through survivorship.”

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