Making treatment easier

Derek Montague
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New health program to aide Labrador cancer patients

Vickie Kaminski, Eastern Health president and CEO, announces a new cancer treatment initiative for aboriginal patients from Labrador.

Eastern Health is starting a new Labrador program aimed at easing the hardships felt by aboriginal patients who receive cancer treatment in Newfoundland.

The three-year, $800,000 program, which is called Journey in the Big Land and funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, recognizes that the early stages of cancer treatment can be especially difficult for Innu, Inuit and members of NunatuKavut, who live in aboriginal communities.

“The shear size of Labrador can often pose a barrier to accessing healthcare, when people here are faced with very serious health issues like cancer,” Vickie Kaminski, Eastern Health president and CEO, said at a March 11 news conference in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

“Our aboriginal patients must also navigate the challenges of geography, the distance to cancer specialists, along with language barriers and cultural differences that come into play when they arrive at some of our health care facilities.”

Cancer patients from Labrador often have to fly to the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre in St. John’s for treatment. The geographical and cultural difference can make cancer treatment more difficult.

“A cancer diagnosis can be frightening for any of us, so much more frightening for an Inuk elder who needs everything explained in a way that they can understand,” said Gary Mitchell, the minister of education and economic development with the Nunatsiavut government.

“It is a long way from Nain to St. John’s, in more than just physical miles.”

One of the initiatives outlined in Journey in the Big Land is to increase cultural sensitivity and awareness within Eastern Health.

Important information will be translated into Inuktitut and Innu-aimun when needed. Also, photographs and visuals of Labrador will be placed in the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Centre, to give Labrador aboriginals a sense of home.

 “The hope is that these familiar images will help our patients feel more welcome and more at ease,” Kaminski said.

Eastern Health is also hoping to make patients’ transition back to their Labrador communities easier. This will be done by better sharing important health information with those involved in a patient’s treatment program.

“When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, more help is needed before they leave the community in Labrador and throughout the course of their treatment at the cancer centre, and when they return home,” said Kaminski.

“Continuity in a patient’s care is especially critical after they’ve been discharged from hospital. So we’ve identified areas where we can improve co-ordination of care amongst all of those involved.”

Easter Health is also planning to utilize tele-oncology in remote aboriginal communities, so the patient, oncologist, physician and nurses can stay in contact and consult each other about a patient’s treatment.

“It may be used to link Labrador Grenfell physicians with oncology specialist to discuss treatment plans … and to give reports to patients themselves on treatment procedures,” Kaminski said.

“The point is to bring cancer care closer to home, wherever possible, so that the physical and emotional wellbeing of our cancer patient is put first.”

Organizations: Canadian Partnership

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Eastern Health, Happy Valley Goose Bay Nain

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