UC Medical Center recently launched a dedicated outpatient social work service to support various units across the medical center, with a strong focus on oncology. Georgia Anderson, a master’s trained oncology social worker, was appointed to lead the newly created unit as well as existing palliative care services. Anderson spent the past five years as the oncology social worker for patients receiving care at the Barrett Center, the primary adult outpatient cancer care facility of the UC Cancer Institute. She now leads a team of 12 outpatient social workers assigned to various service lines across the medical center.
As part of this expansion, three social workers have joined the team to serve oncology: Claire Bifro (malignant hematology and bone marrow transplant); Kristin Jordan (head/neck cancer, lung cancer, brain tumors); and Anne Shibilski (genitourinary, gastrointestinal, gynecologic, breast and melanoma). Debra Brundidge has joined the palliative care team, along with nurse practitioner Tracey Adams. The team served 1,078 patients in the first quarter of 2013.
Commission on Cancer Changes Fuel Expansion
By 2015, the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer will require that all accredited cancer care facilities like the Barrett Center demonstrate that they screen patients diagnosed with cancer and identify the issues that can negatively impact treatment and outcome.
The Commission on Cancer is a nationally recognized consortium of professional organizations dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients through standard-setting, prevention, research, education and the monitoring of comprehensive quality care.
Anderson’s team is in the pilot phase of integrating a distress screening tool at the UC Cancer Institute. She expects it to be fully implemented in oncology services by early summer.
"Cancer is the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you have money or not—the disease changes the way your family operates and causes tremendous strain. That’s where social work can really help,” says Anderson. "Too often, patients and their families turn to us after their personal lives are starting to fall apart. Our goal is to use this distress screening tool to identify patients who need help earlier so patients receive the maximum benefit of social work services.”
Patient Navigator Services
Although many people think of social work as helping patients with material needs—such as transportation or housing assistance—Anderson stresses that the UC Cancer Institute oncology social work model is shifting to allow social workers to focus on what they do best: counseling.
This includes empowering patients with information about their specific diagnoses, personal health rights and health insurance/benefits coverage; connecting to support and educational programs; and helping the patient understand how to best communicate with their medical team.
"Our goal is to reduce stress for patients and families throughout all phases of cancer. That means something different to every patient we encounter,” adds Anderson.
"We become the interpreters between the medical team and the patient. We are not medically trained, but we are medically savvy so we can help families and patients understand what types of questions they should be asking so they are able to make more informed treatment decisions.”
UC Medical Center has partnered with the American Cancer Society to offer position a patient resource navigator—Julie Behan—at the Barrett Center. Nearly 200 patients have taken advantage of this resource since it launched in January.
Learn more about oncology social work and palliative care at uccancer.com
. To reach the oncology social work team, call 513-584-3200. Palliative care can be reached at 513-584-8181.