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L-R Vickie Sullivan, Award Presenter and Director, Capital Healh Cancer Care Program, Lauren Couture (Mary Lou's daughter), Mary Lou Robertson 

Cancer patients have a lot of issues on their plate: hair loss, potential loss of a job, a change in relationships, worries about how sick the treatment is going to make them and the list goes on. Many patients also worry about their financial ability to cover the cost of cancer treatment. Drug coverage, in particular, is a growing concern for many patients. Many new cancer treatments are now developed to be filled by prescription and taken at home, and are not covered through hospital budgets but through the patient’s drug plan. Additionally, early detection and advances in treatment mean patients often live with cancer longer, and inevitably worry about the ongoing costs of prescription drugs used to treat pain, nausea, and other symptoms. Drug plans often don’t go far enough to cover the rising costs of these medications, and figuring out one’s coverage options can be overwhelming. Enter Mary Lou Robertson, Medication Resource Specialist at Capital Health, and recipient of the 2012 Excellence in Patient Care Award (health professional).

“I let patients know that my job is to work with them to ensure they get the medications they need,” says Mary Lou. “I try to help take the pressure and confusion off of figuring out drug coverage.” Mary Lou’s role was introduced in 2005 to coordinate prescription-based drug coverage for cancer patients. This may involve helping someone without coverage to enroll in a Pharmacare program, finding funds to cover the cost of supportive care drugs such as those used to treat nausea, helping with insurance appeals, or coordinating paperwork from a number of sources of help for a cancer treatment.

“Atlantic Canada has the lowest percentage of people in the country who have private health insurance,” says Mary Lou. “Even those who have a private drug plan often don’t have 100% coverage, and drug plans can differ widely in what they cover. Most people need help to identify how much drug coverage they have, whether a drug is covered and what paperwork is needed, and link with additional sources of funding through pharmaceutical-sponsored patient assistance programs. My role includes connecting patients with these programs, but also working with such programs to ensure patients receive timely and quality assistance.”

A large part of Mary Lou’s role now also includes consulting with staff, to help educate them on cancer drug coverage and ensure they have the tools necessary to start the process of coverage in a seamless and timely manner. Her role as consultant also extends beyond the boundaries of Capital Health.

“Although I work for Capital Health, I routinely work with health professionals across the province who are also helping to coordinate coverage for patients - Cancer Patient Navigators, pharmacists, social workers, and family doctors.”

“I enjoy networking and collaborating with others, building relationships with health professionals, pharmaceutical companies, community organizations and patients,” says Mary Lou. “Most of all, I enjoy being able to break down a complex situation for patients and ease their stress by making sure they get what they need when they need it.”

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