One of the benefits of living in NYC is options. One has a plethora of options to eat, drink, shop, gain a education, attend a house of worship, watch a sports game or take a simple walk in the park, just to name a few. In addition, one of the huge benefits of living in one of the worlds largest cities is access to healthcare options. After going thru chemotherapy and several surgeries to treat breast cancer in 2015, I started to look around to see what some of the options were for people who are going thru the struggle of trying to manage a chronic life altering disease. To my surprise, one of the biggest options for people diagnosed with cancer was just steps away, in my own community.
In 2003 two titans (from very different walks of life) joined forces to guarantee access to quality healthcare in Harlem. Designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist Ralph Lauren joined forces with surgeon, author, administrator and advocate Dr. Harold Freeman in partnership with Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital to create the Ralph Lauren Center for a Cancer Care and Prevention.
Located just off Harlem's most famous boulevard, 125th Street, The Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention provides a array of supports, screenings and treatments options in a vibrant and tastefully decorated environment.
Armed with a huge curiosity to visit such a shining gem in my own community, I was granted a tour of the the center with the lovely and super informed Coordinating Manager, Carmen Navarro.
Carmen provided me with a wonderful overview of the services the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer and Prevention provides (a short list of which and the centers website I'll share the link to). More importantly, Carmen provided me with a brief education on one of the most important aspects of managing a cancer diagnosis (or even trying to obtain a screening) the importance of a Patient Navigator!
In my opinion, outside of your surgeon, oncologist and mental health professional, having someone on your side to assists you wade thru the many challenges one faces when trying to obtain quality healthcare is key. Many of us do not realize the importance of advocacy, education, research and good old fashion assertiveness until faced with the challenge of trying to coordinate a treatment plan.
So what is a patient navigator and what is the significance of having one? Well luckily I was able to get a brief breakdown on the history and benefits of this program by a someone who knows first hand. That's right, not only is she a gatekeeper, community outreach maven and social worker, Carmen is also a trained patient navigator!
Founded in 1990 by the very same Dr. Harold Freeman, Patient Navigation was created to reduce disparities in access to diagnosis and treatment of cancer for poor an uninsured people. Carmen explained some of the benefits of Patient Navigation, which include:
- Improve care linkage and continuity (patients are not left to their own devices, slipping between the cracks and missing critical appointments)
- Assisting with translation. For example for Spanish speaking patients, Patient Navigators at the RLCCCP will sit in the office visit with the patient to translate, clarify and explain doctors findings, suggestions and definitions for follow up care or treatment.
- Assist with obstacles obtaining insurance, referring to appropriate financial supports and working with insurance companies to provide information, coverage for screenings and treatment when managing a chronic illness.
- Eliminate barriers to timely care. When your faced with screening or a diagnosis for a chronic illness like cancer, who wants to wait for months trying to access quality health care?
- Having an advocate who has your back. Whether it's a question regarding treatment or screening, finding coping solutions for stress related anxiety, nutrition, the effects of a healthy diet or grappling with survivorship, obtaining a trained and supportive Patient Navigator can really make a difference in the quality of life for a person with a cancer diagnosis.
Besides having top notch healthcare (due to the key partnership with world renowned Memorial Sloan Cancer Center) The Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer and Prevention also provides cooking demonstrations and community outreach & education (via wellness fairs & fostering key relationships with grassroots community groups, religious centers and service providers). With big named passionate supporters (such as NBA champion Lebron James, entertainment & news officiant Gayle King, The Walt Disney Company, The Robin Hood Foundation and American Express to name a few) and under the leadership of a deep and experienced board of directors, staff and educators the community of Harlem has a beacon of hope in the war against cancer. It's called The Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention.