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A feeling of family
For the past 25 years, the Head and Neck Cancer Site Team at the QEII Health Sciences Centre has been helping patients and their families. This year in June they were honoured for their work – and their innovation when they were presented with Cancer Care Nova Scotia’s Innovation Excellence Award.

That innovation was evident seven years ago when the entire team, including patients, came together, as part of a Quality Improvement Project, to explore how they could enhance the quality of the care and treatment provided.

 “The goal was to see how we could improve care for patients going through complex treatment,” says Karen Woodworth, Head and Neck Oncology Case Manager and Co-chair of the Head and Neck Cancer Site Team. “We looked at care from the onset of diagnosis to identify gaps and areas where we could make improvements in service delivery. We wanted to think outside the box.”

The team’s most significant achievement was the creation of the Head and Neck Leadership Award 2010Oncology Case Manager in 2007. In this role, Karen, a certified oncology nurse, is easily accessible  to patients and acts as a resource person. She helps patients and families access information, assesses needs, facilitates referrals, attends to patient education and symptom management needs, and provides overall support.The main focus of the role is to enhance patient and family centered care throughout the cancer journey.This role, notes Karen, has led to improved coordination and continuity of care for patients and their families. It has enhanced communication among team members. Patients are also better informed, and links with the community are stronger.

This is only one example of what the team has accomplished through its out-of-the-box approach. Today all new patients have automatic referrals to supportive care team members on their first visit. There is also improved clinic flow.

“We try to meet – or surpass – the guidelines for treatment times,” says Judi Phillips, Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Clinic Nurse and Head and Neck Cancer Site Team co-chair.

The team has also created the Head & Neck Patient and Family Fund through the QEII Foundation. It was established to raise money for patients and family members in financial need to cover out-of-pocket expenses such as transportation, medical supplies and equipment costs. “We have raised over $20,000 in the last three years,” notes Judi.

Events include bakes sales, chili luncheons, yard sales, and raffles. Patients often help out at events – and one person even held a hair-shaving fundraiser at his office. Community partners, including Irving Oil and M&M Meats, are also lending a helping hand. For every $600 in gas cards purchased, Irving Oil donates another $100. M&M Meats donates $100 of groceries every month.

The Head and Neck Cancer Site Team is also reaching out to other health professionals. A student volunteer program enables individuals interested in applying to a health program to meet patients and get some hospital experience. “This is a unique, collaborative team. We’ve been working together in the same space for many years, and we want to share what we’ve learned,” says Karen.