Technology is important for the Women’s Imaging Center (WIC) at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH), but it’s a comprehensive team effort to monitor every aspect of patient care that sets the WIC apart from other facilities, according to Dr. Thomas Boyle, a general surgeon with a focus on breast cancer.
“The essence of our approach is to combine multi-specialty collegiality, including primary care physicians, pathologist, radiation oncologist, medical oncologists, nurse navigators, breast cancer surgeons, and volunteers in a team effort to care for the patient with breast cancer,” Dr. Boyle said. “Patients — women and men — truly appreciate that they can obtain all aspects of their breast cancer care by a team of expertly trained physicians and facilitators who work so closely together to provide for their very important needs.”
Tim Stephens, vice president for professional services, emphasized that this team of professionals continually discuss patient cases to assure that every aspect of care is met.
“We work in an integrated way so patients and elements of their care don’t get overlooked during the course of their preparation and treatment,” Stephens said.
That’s important because the Center screens about 7,600 patients every year, searching for breast cancer, according to Linda Aeschliman, nurse navigator. Last year about 260 women required biopsies, she said.
“Knowing they need to have a biopsy makes individuals very anxious, and waiting for results only heightens the anxiety,” she acknowledged. “So we’ve worked to reduce the waiting, because it’s facing the unknown that’s so frightening. Ninety-nine percent of our biopsies are done the same day as the testing, and we aim to get results back to patients within two working days.”
She noted that men may also be diagnosed with breast cancer and receive the same team-based, multi-specialty care.
“Our services and technology are here for them, too,” Aeschliman said.
A community-based fund raising effort is under way to help pay for new imaging technology that will provide doctors with clearer, more accurate pictures, and because of that, fewer patients will have to return to the Center for further testing, Aeschliman noted.
Dr. Michael Hallenbeck, a hospital radiologist, explained that new 3-D mammography equipment would allow doctors to discover small cancers that can’t be seen in conventional 2-D imaging.
As nurse navigator, Aeschliman is an effective part of the resource and support system the Center has developed for patients who do discover cancer. She meets with each patient to help them understand what the findings mean, and how the approach to their treatment will unfold. She even accompanies some patients when they begin treatment or undergo surgery.
“We’re all about information, resources, and support,” she emphasized.
In recent months she has augmented her services by training peer navigators — breast cancer survivors who can work one-on-one with patients, sharing their own experiences and helping the patients manage their emotions. Fifteen such volunteers are now available, though not all of them have been assigned patients, Aeschliman said.
The Center works in tandem with the Sierra Nevada Cancer Center, which coordinates two weekly support groups for women with cancer, and another for anyone — male or female — that has cancer.
Cost is a concern for many women who might be under insured, facing a hefty copayment, or have no coverage, she said. But she is able to refer such patients to several local sources designed to help.
“We coordinate with community resources,” she said. “For example we have a good working relationship with several local clinics, including Chapa-De Indian Health Program. These clinics can sign eligible women up for state and federally funded programs that pay for breast and cervical cancer screening and breast cancer treatment. That relieves so much anxiety.”
Aeschliman added that the SNMH Foundation also maintains special funds to help local women get annual screening mammograms.
“We’re able to say ‘yes,’ and that’s such a gift,” she said.
WIC also schedules several Moonlight Mammogram screenings annually, remaining open evenings so working women can be tested without having to take time off jobs. Additionally, the Center is open one or two Saturdays each month, to help meet busy schedules.
“Our extremely advanced technology gives patients a comfort level that we’re providing the best care possible, close to home,” Aeschliman said. “It’s knowing that you don’t have to go down the hill or to the Bay Area to get top-notch health care.”
Locals can also take comfort knowing that they’re being cared for by people who live in the same community, she said. “People are treated like they’re neighbors,” Aeschliman said, “Because they are.”
For more information, or to schedule a screening, call 530-274-6246.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.