In a healthcare world where breaking down traditional silos will be a key part of addressing the challenge of change that lies ahead, the hands-on philanthropy of a Seattle couple in their involvement with City of Hope has been the underpinning of two grants to provide training on the humanistic side of medicine.
The grants, both $1.5 million for five years, are from the National Cancer Institute to City of Hope, a nationally regarded cancer research and treatment facility in Duarte, east of Los Angeles, and are designed to train representatives from cancer centers around the country. By seeking involvement in the programs, the institutions have indicated they wish to change, and want to understand how to go about it.
Matt Loscalzo, executive director of the department of supportive care medicine at City of Hope, helped create the models for both the breaking-down-silos grant and one for a tablet-based program to train health professionals in how to screen cancer patients for issues that might affect their care.
He credits City of Hope's Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center, supported with both dollars and direct involvement by the couple who transplanted from Los Angeles to Seattle several years ago, with attracting the attention of NCI to the grant applications.
"We would not have gotten these grants, at a time when very few grants are being funded, without the philanthropic and institutional partnership that exists between CoH and the Billers, who are veryactively involved in the operations of the Center," Loscalzo said. "Most institutions say to philanthropists, 'we're pleased to get your money, now please leave us alone.' It doesn't happen that way with CoH and the Billers."
City of Hope bills the center, which in October is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its opening, as "the international model for compassionate care" and touts CoH itself as "one of the only institutions in the United States to offer this level of comprehensive support."
The grant that is likely most exciting to Loscalzo, whom I met at City of Hope two years ago in an introduction by Sheri Biller, is the one to train representative teams from other cancer-care institutions in the use of the tablet, a device named theSupportScreen. He pioneered the device that has become a vital part of the compassionate care that is the key to the Biller Center's success.
Loscalzo says the SupportScreen, a "primitive prototype" of which he brought to City of Hope when he came there from UC-San Diego in 2007, is used to identify physical symptoms, psychosocial problems, family concerns and triages the patient's concerns to the designated professionals or resources."
The SupportScreen prompts patients to answer various questions regarding their care and concerns and researchers have found that patients are frequently more likely to share fears and concernswhen prompted by a computer application rather than by face-to-face personal questions.
Although the Billers have moved to Seattle, where Les has become chairman of Sterling Bank, they remain closely involved with City of Hope, where Sheri is chair of the board.
The purpose of both grants is to, as Loscalzo puts it, "transform the humanistic side of medicine, a recognition that innovative approaches that are patient and family centered represent an idea whose time is coming, real soon. And the rest will come later."
While both grants are focused on cancer care, Loscalzo suggests "they are models for dealing with other chronic diseases."
Evidence of the interest the silos-breakdown concept is having with healthcare facilities around the country is that the next session, to be held in October at Mt Sinai Hospital in New York, which is City of Hope's partner in the grants, attracted more than 200 applicants for the 50 spots. City of Hope and Mt. Sinai will rotate in conducting the semi-annual programs.
The grants will entail training teams of health care professionals: physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, business administrators and chaplains who, when they return to their respective institutions, will be expected to begin a process of changing the cultures there.
The institutions that have sent representatives to the sessions have agreed in advance that they want agents of change trained in how to do that, and the programs involve regular followups with the attendees to track their progress and assist with challenges in leading the change process.
And the breadth and extent of interest by cancer centers around the country should be taken as a positive sign that they understand the need to change.