DANVERS — A breast cancer diagnosis is stressful enough. But for some women, it also means struggling through a confusing healthcare system and making the difficult choice between paying rent and paying hospital bills.
That’s where the VNA Care Network and Hospice comes in. For more than 10 years, the organization’s Breast Cancer Treatment Support Program has provided financial assistance and other support to breast cancer patients in need.
One of 24 programs funded by the Massachusetts affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s grant program, and the only one that helps women statewide, the Breast Cancer Treatment Support Program provides $250 stipends for patients to use where they’re needed most.
“A lot of the women have issues with transportation costs,” said Joan Fitzpatrick, RN, a nurse care manager in the VNA Care Network’s Danvers office and manager of the support program. “A lot of them have to travel into Boston two to three days a week for several weeks.”
Women can also use the money for copays, medications, deductibles and wigs, or even to pay for groceries, utilities and rent.
“Especially with insurance costs going up, a lot of women have trouble meeting the copays and deductibles,” Fitzpatrick said.
Women who receive the stipends are asked to send a note to the VNA Care Network, explaining how they used the money and whether it was helpful.
The program’s nurse care managers also help women make doctors’ appointments, fill out applications for other financial assistance programs, and understand other available resources that they otherwise may not have known about.
“They don’t always know where to look,” Fitzpatrick said.
For women who don’t speak English well or at all, patient navigators can help. Fatima Gomes and Lucy Clinton are fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish, and the VNA Care Network has other translators on hand available to help women who speak a different language.
Before receiving assistance, each applicant is assessed for financial and social need, any barriers to care, and whether she has insurance, Fitzpatrick said.
“Most are insured,” she said. “Every once in a while someone comes in who needs insurance.”
When that happens, the Massachusetts Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program will provide MassHealth coverage for treatment of women diagnosed with either cancer.
While some women seek help on their own, many come to the program through a referral. Fitzpatrick said social workers, the Dana Farber Cancer Center, and Lowell Community College have all pointed women to the program.
So far this year, the VNA Care Network’s program has helped 86 women statewide, but there’s always a greater need. Fitzpatrick said the program receives its funding in six-month increments, and there’s already a waiting list for the next installment.
Most women understand the VNA Care Network’s limitations. And every year the program seeks more opportunities, such as its partnership with the North Shore Community Health Network.
The Komen grant provides the bulk of the program’s funding, and the organization is thankful for the support. VNA Care Network employees do their part to give back, too — they have a team in the 20th annual Komen Massachusetts Race for the Cure, taking place Saturday, Oct. 20, in South Boston.
Statistics show that breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death worldwide among women, and the VNA Care Network’s Breast Cancer Treatment Support program falls in line with Komen’s mission — to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening diagnosis by advancing research, education, screening and treatment.