A diagnosis of lung cancer in April was difficult enough for Dolores Slusarczyk and her family to comprehend. But when suddenly faced with the ongoing hassle of trying to schedule appointments for additional biopsies and other tests needed before surgery, they found the stress overwhelming.
Eventually, Slusarczyk went to Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Ill., for surgery. There, she came in contact with Christine “Izzy” Izzarelli, RN, a lung cancer nurse navigator at Ingalls. As a nurse navigator, Izzarelli was not only prepared to provide support and coordinate doctor visits, but she also offered to help family members carry items to the car.
“She wouldn’t even let me carry anything,” Slusarczyk’s daughter, Judith Ventura, of Dyer, Ind., says, recalling the day her mom had surgery. Ventura herself is an LPN specializing in home care. “She totally cared about my family from the time we walked in the door,” Ventura says. “I said ‘Where were you three months ago?’ “Lisa Lowe, RN
Part educator, part personal assistant, and part friend, nurse navigators provide a unique level of care to patients and their families. They sit in on patient consultations, expedite appointments and tests, help resolve insurance issues, and let patients know what programs are available to them. Izzarelli is one of four nurse navigators at Ingalls, each of whom specializes in high-need areas such as lung cancer, breast cancer, radiation, and childbirth.
“Basically, I guide and support them, and I’m there from diagnosis to resolution,” Izzarelli says. “I tell them they can call me at any time.”
Izzarelli’s position was created about a year ago after Ingalls saw positive results in the nurse navigator program for breast cancer. Georgia Casella, RN, breast health specialist at Ingalls’ Richard K. Desser, MD, Comprehensive Breast Center in Tinley Park, Ill., became certified as a navigator in 2006. Another nurse, Lisa Gravitt, RN, OCN, will be certified in September. Patients who come through Ingalls with abnormal mammograms have ultrasounds or biopsies scheduled immediately.Diane Valentine, RN
Doing so cuts down on patient stress, Casella says, since the usual wait time between an abnormal finding and diagnoses can be unnerving. Without a nurse navigator, several weeks can go by before a patient even knows whether anything is wrong.
“The goal of the program is to get the patient from an abnormal mammogram to diagnosis to surgery in 28 days,” Casella says. “The navigator helps close all those loose ends and makes the whole process for the patient much easier. We educate the patient about their diagnosis, about their surgery, and possible treatment options.”
The newest addition to Ingalls’ nurse navigator concept is the Healthy Baby Network. The program sends nurse navigator Lisa Lowe, RN, BSN, into the community to talk to women about their pregnancies and resources they should pursue. She receives about four calls a day inquiring about the program.
“This month alone it was a lot of girls who were going to be homeless, so pregnant or not, I have to hustle around and find somebody to take them in,” Lowe says. “I get their doctors’ appointments and sign them up for WIC. When they have their babies, I call to see how they’re doing and make sure they get on the medical card.”Georgia Casella, RN
But it’s not just young moms coming through Ingalls who are in need of financial assistance. In these tough economic times, Diane Valentine, RN, BSN, has found herself issuing more letters than ever to utility companies on behalf of cancer patients who are having trouble keeping up with their bills. Valentine, a nurse navigator in radiation therapy, says her job goes beyond telling people the side effects of treatment.
“Some people can’t pay their bills,” says Valentine. “We will make applications to different agencies for assistance. It’s all part of paying attention to the whole patient package, the physical as well as the mental.”
Valentine also assists patients with transportation so they can make it to Ingalls Memorial Hospital for treatment. She helps patients arrange schedules with their employers and bosses so the frequent hospital visits do not interfere with their jobs.
Patient satisfaction is up as a result of having nurse navigators at Ingalls, the nurses involved say. “It’s getting back to the basics of nursing,” Izzarelli says. “I’m here for you. I completely understand. I’m putting myself in your shoes.”