Knowing the health-care system is complex and often creates anxiety for patients newly diagnosed with cancer, the Northwell Health Cancer Institute has launched Cancer Care Direct, a comprehensive program to connect patients with clinical registered nurse navigators who can provide expert guidance to patients and caregivers from diagnosis to treatment to survivorship. The program will be offered at Northwell’s 10 cancer centers in communities across Long Island, Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, and Westchester.
“As an integrated health system, Northwell’s Cancer Care Direct program can truly navigate patients through the entire continuum of cancer care and other medical disciplines,” said Richard Barakat, MD, Physician-in-Chief and Director of the Northwell Health Cancer Institute, and Senior Vice President of Cancer Services. “A cancer diagnosis is devastating. We want to provide our patients with every level of treatment and support they need, and our trained nurse navigators will be there every step of the way. We want to help alleviate stress, so patients can focus on getting well.”
Richard Barakat, MD
In January 2023, Northwell Health Cancer Institute piloted Cancer Care Direct to its 83,000 employees across its health system, offering staff and their family members access to nurse navigators. The Northwell Cancer Care Direct navigation program provides expert guidance in nearly every type of cancer. Within the first 2 months, Cancer Care Direct received more than 100 referrals.
Cancer Care Direct in Action
Nurse navigators are the ultimate patient advocates. When Devyani Kamdar received a diagnosis of an aggressive type of breast cancer in November 2022, she was shocked because no one in her family had cancer before. The 69-year-old accounting clerk was overwhelmed.
“I went numb and had trouble processing the information,” said Ms. Kamdar, who lives on Long Island with her husband of 42 years. “My family doctor referred me to Northwell, and I was glad to be connected with a nurse navigator to help me with everything.”
Maria Jose Conway, BSN
Maria Jose Conway, BSN, the nurse navigator for Ms. Kamdar, met her and her husband for the first time at an initial consult with a breast surgeon at the R.J. Zuckerberg Cancer Center in New Hyde Park. Trained as an oncology nurse, Ms. Conway attended the meeting with the surgeon at her patient’s request, coordinated social work meetings, and arranged an appointment with a medical oncologist to set up chemotherapy sessions. Ms. Kamdar has had several rounds of treatment and will have breast surgery to remove her tumors.
“I try to prioritize steps for patients to make things less stressful for them,” said Ms. Conway. “Handling a wide range of logistics is essential, but it’s helpful for patients to talk with someone when they are frightened.” Ms. Conway said she will follow Ms. Kamdar through her entire cancer journey.
“I’m thankful for Maria; she makes my life easier,” Ms. Kamdar said. “I call her to save time and stress. She puts her heart and soul into her job and always has a big smile on her face.”
Since early 2022 nurse navigators have helped more than 1,200 patients in various cancer specialties. Karen Kostroff, MD, Chief of Breast Surgery at Northwell Health, was involved in developing the health system’s nurse navigation system. “Breast cancer has been a multidisciplinary disease for decades, so it’s natural to have a team in place,” said Dr. Kostroff. “Northwell created the larger navigation program because of the great need in the region to serve people with cancer both physically and mentally, blending caring and quality outcomes.”