Grant will aid breast cancer patients

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

A grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation will enable Hays Medical Center's Breast Care Center to expand its mission.

That mission is helping to remove obstacles that often keep area women from achieving the level of care they need, said Nicole Spray, a nurse practitioner at the breast care center.

"There are some people out in the community we serve who have difficulty getting to an appointment specific to their breast health," Spray said. "Whether it be getting here to have a biopsy or just getting here to have a mammogram."

HaysMed has received grants from the foundation for two consecutive years. This year's funds total $37,570.

About $1,200 of the grant money will be used to launch a new gas voucher program. When visiting with patients, the high price of gas was mentioned as a hindrance for out-of-town patients who must travel to Hays often for appointments.

Vouchers of $50 each are available for qualifying patients, Spray said.

The Breast Care Center opened almost a year ago, and Spray, who also works as a patient navigator, has been assessing patient needs to help determine how the center's services should grow.

"When you say you're going to assess people for ... barriers to care and you don't have any way to help them, that's challenging," she said. "I feel very fortunate (to have the grant)."

Most of the grant funds will be used to continue the center's patient navigation services. As a navigator, Spray helps patients make any arrangements necessary for medical appointments.

The goal is to "make good use" of patients' time, she said. If patients need several tests or have appointments with more than one physician, Spray attempts to help the patient schedule everything for the same day.

Besides scheduling, staff also offers resource referral services.

In some cases, they even help patients find caretakers for children or elderly parents, enabling them to leave home for medical care.

The third project the grant money will fund is additional education sessions throughout northwest Kansas.

A healthful cooking class was offered for breast cancer survivors last month, and another activity in Hays is set for this summer.

Educational events also will be in Norton, Colby and Tribune, said Dr. Anne O'Dea, an oncologist who specializes in breast care.

"We hope to give them a seed -- the information, the seed money -- all the things that they need and hopefully it inspires them to adopt it as an annual event," she said.

The Breast Care Center, which offers preventative services such as genetic testing, as well as assistance for cancer patients and survivors, has served approximately 1,400 patients since it opened May 23.

While much progress has been made, O'Dea said there still is work to do.

"We continue to see women out there who are falling through the cracks or not getting the maximum services that they could," she said. "They might be getting basic services like screening, but for example, they may not be getting the genetic counseling ... so there's always room for improvement.

"That's what we're working towards."