Via Christi Cancer Institute in Wichita, Kansas, is part of the larger Via Christi Health network serving the state of Kansas and northeast Oklahoma. Via Christi is the largest provider of healthcare services in Kansas, with its doctors, hospitals, senior villages, and other medical services. Its website states: “We serve as a healing presence with special concern for our neighbors who are vulnerable.”
Via Christi Cancer Institute in Wichita has a multitude of services available to cancer patients and their families, which include bone marrow transplants, chemotherapy administration, radiation therapy including brachytherapy, CyberKnife, and integrative therapies (eg, yoga, meditation, massage, and pet therapy). Via Christi has a patient advisory committee and a developing Nurse Navigator Program. The Oncology Nurse-APN/PA spoke with the institute’s oncology nurse navigator, Margaret (Maggie) Ward, MSN, APRN, AGCNS, OCN.
Tell me about the Nurse Navigator Program.
Maggie Ward (MW): It’s brand-new, and I am the first nurse navigator to be hired. I have been here since September 2013. Currently we are located on the St. Francis campus, but we plan to expand the program to the other 2 hospitals in Wichita.
What does your job entail?
MW: I wear 2 hats. The first involves our insurance program based on a federal grant linked to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The other hat is for working with cancer inpatients.
I am working with a team of insurance navigators to identify underinsured and uninsured individuals in and around Sedgwick County in order to provide them with the appropriate education and resources for enrolling in insurance through the ACA. We educate and provide resources for patients regarding the need for screening with mammography, Pap smear, and colonoscopies, and encourage them to participate based on the American Cancer Society’s screening guidelines for cancer. If they are diagnosed with cancer, they return to me as the point person for communication with the primary care physician, the oncologist, the surgeon, and the rest of the healthcare team. So far, since I have been the nurse navigator, I have assisted 3 patients who were lacking insurance and in need of cancer screening or follow-up cancer services.
I also work with inpatients, mainly educating them about their diagnosis, treatments, and discharge planning. Some patients remain in the hospital for up to 6 weeks, and many for less time, depending on the treatment they are receiving. Patients who come in with an infection or who develop an infection in hospital are continued on antibiotic therapy and are educated about the signs and symptoms that warrant a call to me, in an effort to reduce the readmission rates.
Our Cancer Center is distinguished from some other centers by its integrative services, which include massage, yoga, meditation, and pet therapy. I am particularly excited about the pet therapy. We have teamed up with Victory in the Valley, which provides dogs and their handlers who come to visit the inpatients. These handlers and dogs are TDI [Therapy Dogs International]-certified and are allowed into patients’ rooms to offer them companionship and affection. Patients love this program. Even a 10- to 15-minute visit is enough to brighten their days, keeping them in the moment and enjoying themselves.
We also offer 1 free massage to all inpatients. And we have a movie theater where they can take their intravenous poles with them and watch a movie. We even have popcorn.
I know it is a new position, but what is your greatest challenge thus far?
MW: A patient with a cancer diagnosis faces a maze. I want to be sure to offer the best possible treatment and path to each individual, which means personalized care, because this will not be the same for every patient.
What is your greatest reward?
MW: My greatest reward is linking patients with the insurance side. Due to previous insurance regulations, many current cancer patients were dropped from their insurance coverage and had no means to pay for treatments and follow-up visits. Now, through the ACA, patients cannot be denied insurance for preexisting conditions, and, therefore, treatment may continue as needed and recommended. In addition, as a result of insurance coverage, patients will be diagnosed earlier and get treated earlier, hopefully leading to improved outcomes. This will also reduce hospital readmissions, which are so hard on patients and families. Some of our patients have to travel from rural communities in West Kansas to be readmitted.
What led you to become an oncology nurse?
MW: I had a friend in high school who was diagnosed with cancer. I saw firsthand how much help the nurses gave her. I started to volunteer and fell in love with nursing. During nursing school, I started working at Via Christi, and 8 years ago I began working in oncology. I was blessed to help write the grant for the Nurse Navigator Program and was hired as the first nurse navigator.