Oncology patient navigators: Removing barriers to getting well

July 09, 2020
The Foundation
8 min read


When patients hear the words, “You have cancer,” they can feel any number of emotions, and it can understandably be overwhelming. Patients may have questions about their health and treatment. They may have concerns about affording their care. They may wonder what resources are available in our community. Mount Nittany Health understands that when you have cancer, the only thing you should have to focus on is getting well. That’s why the health system offers oncology patient navigation services at no charge for those who need them.

“Our role is to remove barriers to our patients’ care,” shares Leslie Finton, MSW, oncology patient navigator. “Our goal is to ensure there are no barriers to receiving treatment. I tell patients and caregivers, ‘I want to lift all of this off of you so you don’t have to worry about the details.’”

The team of oncology patient navigators at Mount Nittany Health are advocates and guides for a patient’s journey through their cancer care. Assistance is tailored to the patient and their family’s personalized needs. As examples, patient navigators can help:

  • Guide patients through the healthcare system
  • Direct patients and their families to local resources and support systems
  • Coordinate transportation to and from treatments and medical appointments
  • Address questions about insurance and patient assistance programs, work with patients to resolve financial barriers related to being uninsured or under-insured, and assist patients with applying to local and national organizations that may provide financial assistance
  • Connect patients with appropriate resources for information about healthcare, including clinical trials and second opinions, as well as, treatment side effects and nutrition needs
  • Coordinate care by communicating with members of the patient’s medical team

Patient navigators serve as the common link to the various resources and information individuals facing cancer may need. They are a single point of contact for any questions or barriers that may arise. Because research increasingly indicates that patient navigation improves clinical outcomes by overcoming patient and system barriers, Mount Nittany Health is especially grateful for the longstanding and dedicated philanthropic support for this program.

One such philanthropic partner is Team Ream. Team Ream, a local not for profit, is dedicated to providing support and assistance to families affected by a life-threatening illness, including cancer. Team Ream has donated more than $150,000 for direct patient support via the Team Ream Fund. The fund’s guidelines allow patient navigators to use these financial resources to remove specific barriers to care, such as transportation challenges or expenses for treatment.

Pink Zone, since its inception, has focused their donations on supporting the breast cancer navigation program, ensuring that breast cancer patients can access care. Just this year, Pink Zone partnered with The Kay Yow Cancer Fund, financing the navigation program work with underserved women with any cancer diagnosis.

Patient navigator services are not just for patients but are also for their family and friends. “Our role is as much to support the caregiver as the patient,” Finton shares. “We do whatever we can to remove the barriers for the patient. The team we put together to do that just depends on the individual.”

Though physicians and other care team members often refer to individuals, patients and others can reach out on their own as well.

When asked what the biggest reasons are patients either hesitate or don’t participate in the service, Finton supplies a quick response, “One reason: Knowledge that we exist.” Last year, the patient navigators served 500 patients through 1,500 unique interventions. That’s 1,500 barriers removed so patients can focus on getting well. But Finton knows the need is greater.

“We are a free service to our patients. We get them the care they need,” she says. “It shows that the health system not only cares about treating patients medically, but as a whole person. We want people to know navigation exists to remove their barriers and allow them to focus on getting treatment. We are here.”

If you are a person facing a cancer diagnosis or know someone that could benefit from speaking with a patient navigator, please reach out.

Learn more about oncology patient navigators, Kristen Sides and Leslie Finton, and the work they do in these informational videos.

For patient navigator contact information and to view our library of local and national cancer support services, visit mountnittany.org//specialty/oncology/support-services.

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