Date: 11/17/2008

Special Community Hospital Nurse Navigates Breast Cancer Patients through Healthcare Maze

Women seeking breast cancer treatment through the Women’s Diagnostic Center of Community Hospital have a powerful ally on their side in their fight to wellness — a Breast Health Navigator.

Suzanne Ruiz, RN, MS, NP-C recently became Northwest Indiana’s first certified Breast Health Navigator, adding to the resources available through the breast care program of the Community Healthcare System. This model of care and training is being put in place at all three hospitals of the Community Healthcare System: Community Hospital in Munster; St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago; and St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.

“Our Breast Health Navigator will help women overcome barriers and avoid delays in obtaining treatment following a diagnosis of breast cancer,” said John Gorski, Senior Vice President of Hospital Operations for the Community Healthcare System. “This expertise adds to the innovative work we’ve done already to shorten the time it takes for a woman to learn she has a diagnosis of cancer. By shortening the time between diagnosis and treatment — a critical window of opportunity — we can help more women in our community beat this disease.”

The role of the Breast Health Navigator is to help patients understand their treatment options and to guide them through the healthcare system. In her role as the breast health navigator, Ruiz serves as a key contact person who helps guide women. With 15 years experience in women’s healthcare — 10 years as a labor and delivery nurse at Community Hospital, five as a nurse practitioner at the Women’s Diagnostic Center and now a certified breast health navigator — she is especially qualified to provide valuable support to patients and their family members.

“A diagnosis of cancer can be a confusing time,” Ruiz said. “Women have a lot of questions and often don’t know where to turn to for help in understanding the complexities of cancer care. This training is about learning how we can be better patient advocates to support women and to make their care plan as seamless as possible.”

At the Women’s Diagnostic Center in Munster, Ruiz helps women “navigate” through the system from the time they learn they have an abnormal mammogram and begin to wonder, “what if,” and “what next.”

“I’m the person they meet when we need to schedule a biopsy. I’m the nurse who holds their hand during the biopsy. I’m the person who calls them the next day to make sure they are doing okay — ask them if they have questions or concerns. And, I remain their key contact person for any questions or any guidance they need through their journey — whether they’re completely done with their care because they have a benign diagnosis or if they need further treatment because of a pre-cancer or cancerous diagnosis,” Ruiz said.

With collaboration from a woman’s referring physician, the Women’s Diagnostic Centers of Community Hospital and St. Mary Medical Center is able to help women coordinate appointments with other professionals, whether it is an oncologist, radiation oncologist, plastic surgeon or other professionals who can meet the patient’s specific needs. St. Catherine Hospital will be adding a bilingual nurse who can also assist patients in making these important connections.