Two Institutions Joining Forces to Improve Care for AYA Oncology Patients

The James Comprehensive Cancer Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital (NCH) have a history of working together and both strive to provide the best care possible for all AYAs, 15-39 years old. It became clear to our team leaders that staffing and programming devoted to this group was crucial to continue to move in a positive direction. Our institutions’ new formal collaboration creates a necessary and unique dual institution AYA program. 2020 has been different for all of us in many ways yet some of those differences, like social distancing and wearing PPE, are wildly familiar to adolescents and young adults fighting cancer. While large gatherings and schools may have ceased in-person, our hospitals remain open to provide medically necessary care to AYAs.

In June of 2019, with the help of TCA, The James hired their first AYA program navigator, Samantha Hulett, MSW, LISW-S. Sam worked diligently to create an AYA program referral, complete comprehensive psychosocial needs assessments and connect patients with the necessary resources to support them during and following treatment. The program referral started as a pilot with hematology, sarcoma, and breast patients and now is expanding to the whole institution. When COVID hit Ohio, it brought a unique opportunity in telehealth. Sam can now see patients and families at their convenience, by video, outside of their medical appointments. AYAs have taken advantage of care at home. Patients appear to be more open and forthcoming, secure that they have privacy and the time needed to share. This allows for more thorough assessments and referrals to the most appropriate care providers.

In April of 2020, Nationwide Children’s Hospital hired their AYA program coordinator Sarah See, MS, LPC, CCLS. She has been with Children’s for the past 10 years working as a child life specialist and a clinical lead. Her transition into this role has looked very different than Sam’s experience. Given the precautions to keep patients safe, Sarah has done much more in the background for program development. She has had the opportunity to benchmark with top AYA programs across the United States, update AYA resources, provide suggestion for how to manage care, and begin to streamline data collection. She also hosted a focus group with The James and NCH patients to assess current programming and identify opportunities for growth, including the creation of an AYA patient advisory council.

Even though these roles may look different now given our current health care circumstances, Sam and Sarah have been great mentors and supportive colleagues throughout this experience. They have a vast amount of knowledge about patient and family centered care and are strong advocates for the AYA population. They can rely on each other’s expertise for patient case discussions and best practices. Next month, they will kick-off their first combined virtual discussion group on dating during and after diagnosis. Just as Sam and Sarah work together, The James Comprehensive Cancer Center and Nationwide Children’s Hospital seamlessly blend to provide the full complement of services to adolescents and young adults with cancer.