Monday Medical: Raising the bar on cancer care

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— At a glance, Yampa Valley Medical Center’s recent accreditation by the Commission on Cancer may not mean a lot to the average resident. It can mean everything, however, to those who have, or may face, a cancer diagnosis.

For starters, it ensures they have access to the best possible cancer care and support, right here at home. This includes state-of-the-art technology and a team of medical professionals skilled in the many aspects of cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Monday Medical

Monday Medical columns publish weekly in the Steamboat Today's Yampa Valley Health section. Read more columns here.

Less than 30 percent of hospitals in the U.S. can provide this patient assurance.

“This is huge,” said Dr. Stacy Childs, Steamboat Springs urologist and chair of YVMC’s Cancer Committee. “It’s been a big effort by so many people at the hospital and a major commitment by the hospital board and administration to undertake the process and funding requirements to make this a better place.”

Established by the American College of Surgeons in 1922, the Commission on Cancer is a group of professionals and organizations setting voluntary standards for high-quality cancer care. Achieving these standards can be arduous.

Hospitals must put together many pieces — from technology and staff to education and prevention programs — to address nearly all of a patient’s needs. Care must be delivered compassionately and efficiently.

Key players on YVMC’s cancer care team are specially trained in cancer care. The hospital collaborates with medical oncologists — doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating cancer — from Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, also commission-accredited. These doctors provide cancer clinics at YVMC twice per month.

Oncology specialists also include nurses in the Infusion/Chemotherapy Center, radiologists, pathologists and physical therapists assisting patients in rehabilitation.

The cancer care program is bolstered by support services helping both patients and their families cope with the emotional and physical toll of cancer. These include genetic counseling, nutrition counseling, acupuncture, massage and other therapies promoting relaxation and whole-body wellness.

Childs, a cancer survivor himself, noted that in addition to coping with the devastation of diagnosis, cancer patients often find themselves overwhelmed by the logistical aspects of their care. YVMC patient navigators ease this burden by coordinating medical records, appointments, testing and financial matters.

Following cancer treatment, YVMC’s cancer team also makes specific survivorship plans for patients, including important recommendations for screenings and follow-up to help keep them cancer free.

“It should be very reassuring to patients that many different professionals are coming together to devise and carry out the best plan of care for their situation,” said oncology-certified nurse Jan Fritz, who is director of cancer services at YVMC and has helped lead the cancer program since its beginnings in 1990.

In addition to the medical piece, Fritz emphasized the importance of cancer education in receiving commission accreditation. This includes YVMC’s Whole Person Wellness presentations about therapies and tools to aid healing.

The hospital also offers free community seminars about early detection and prevention of cancers — such as skin, colon and breast cancers — with particularly high incidence in Northwest Colorado.

Yampa Valley Medical Center is one of only several rural hospitals in Colorado to have commission accreditation, making it a regional destination for cancer care, benefiting patients from Craig, Meeker, Kremmling, Walden, Granby and other neighboring communities.

Accreditation requires hospitals to report their outcomes and data to the Commission on Cancer. This data is included in the National Cancer Data Base, an important resource allowing YVMC to compare its quality of care to other commission-accredited programs.

“This makes us do a good job because we have to report our outcomes while targeting areas of improvement,” Childs said.

To learn more about cancer care at YVMC, visit www.yvmc.org/cancer.

The article includes information from the American College of Surgeons Cancer Programs, www.facs.org/cancer.

Tamera Manzanares writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at tameramanza@gmail.com.

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