Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Profiles in Patient Navigation: LaSonia Melvin

Patient Navigators wear different hats, carry different titles, and assume different responsibilities. The one common thread that weaves throughout each and every navigator's role is that of removing barriers to care for those with chronic diseases. In our efforts to spread the word on how multi-faceted and incredibly important Patient Navigation is, we at the HP Freeman PNI will be featuring profiles on different prominent figures in this lifesaving field.

Meet LaSonia Melvin.
What is your title/job description?
I am a nurse navigator with Health Connections Network, as well as an oncology nurse in a private practice. I help patients with their navigation issues from an oncology standpoint, which can include researching their chemo regimens, educating them on staging, and other clinical concerns. We also have navigators to handle financial needs as well as help patients with other treatment barriers.

What is your professional background?
I have a BA in Religion/Philosophy, which I pursued with the expectation of teaching on the college level. After some soul searching and a reevaluation of my particular gifts, I saw that this wasn’t really suited to me, after all. I ended up going to nursing school after realizing that I would be better suited to help others in that capacity. After graduating from nursing school in 2004, I found myself in an oncology practice where I feel I’ve thrived in helping those who are facing terminal illnesses. I feel my background can definitely help in my role as a nurse navigator by understanding the confusion and despair some patients may feel when they try to muddle through the system on their own. Having an empathetic attitude, I'm able to understand the patients' needs and to do my best to navigate them through the nursing/medical issues they might not understand.

How did you become involved with Patient Navigation? 
In my line of work, I was doing Patient Navigation at times without realizing it actually had a name. I saw it as simply helping my patients and trying to go “above and beyond” my role as a nurse for them. As I became associated with Health Connections Network, I soon realized the “above and beyond” in my particular role actually had a name – Patient Navigation. Since then, I’ve tried to dive head-first into helping patients in that role. I have a co-worker who is a financial navigator for Health Connections Network, and through working closely with her, she introduced me to the HCN group and found we all had a heart for caring for patients. Through HCN, I was able to become a certified navigator through the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute.
What is your relationship with the HPFPNI? 
I received my certification through HPFPNI online, and I can honestly say it was an amazing experience to be able to learn how to properly administer Patient Navigation through HPFPNI. The training I received has been invaluable. I had heard about the high standards of HPFPNI, and knew if I received my certifcation through them, I would have the best training in the field.
Can you explain what a "regular workday" is like for you?
I have various opportunities to help patients through Patient Navigation in my job by referring patients for financial assistance in order for them to be able to pay for their chemo treatments. I’m able to help direct patients to certain resources they might need, such as psychological counseling, housing assistance, support groups, and a variety of other needs as they arise. As I work with HCN, I can see that every medical office would greatly benefit by having a patient navigator that would be able to help their patients understand their disease, the treatment process, and any other treatment barriers that a patient may have... outstanding issues which may arise from beginning to end.

Please offer us an anecdote from your PN experience of particular note that sticks with you.
There are many times patients, especially those battling cancer, feel as though their fight is too much for them to handle alone. I remember one patient who was ready to surrender completely and give up their battle due to the overwhelming financial stressors that a cancer diagnosis can bring. She felt what little she made would go to doctor bills, and that she wouldn’t be able to pay her regular bills due to her illness “eating up her life,” as she would say. Obviously, this also brought about some major depression issues, as well, and she had no idea where to turn. By utilizing my abilities in Patient Navigation, I was able to lead her to getting financial assistance for her medication, helped her get the counseling she needed in order to deal with her diagnosis, and was able to give her hope again through the relief she received through the aid we were able to give her.

What are your thoughts on the future of Patient Navigation?  
I firmly believe Patient Navigation will become more needed as time goes on. Patients have no idea of the help that might be out there for them and, as patient navigators, we would be of great help to them getting over these curve balls life might throw at them.

Are there hospitals, programs, communities, etc. that you see in your everyday life that would benefit greatly from Patient Navigation?
I honestly think every hospital, every doctor’s office, and every counselor’s office would benefit greatly from Patient Navigation. The more we can help our patients live a full and happy life, the better they will feel. I also feel that Patient Navigation can help greatly in the area of preventative medicine, as well, since patients will be better equipped to deal with whatever might come their way. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
LaSonia Melvin, MA
Executive Director
Health Connections Network