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#AMCCBS: A Robotic Oncology Pharmacy, NYC Nursing Strike, & More

March 14, 2023
Day 3-Final

On Friday, March 10, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) concluded its ACCC 49th Annual Meeting & Cancer Center Business Summit (#AMCCBS) where featured speakers and attendees had the opportunity to explore cutting-edge solutions to persistent challenges and navigate the shifting cancer care landscape. Friday began with the announcement of Olalekan Ajayi, PharmD, MBA, chief operating officer at Highlands Oncology Group, PA, as the 2023-2024 ACCC President. “It is a privilege and an honor to serve as ACCC President,” Dr. Ajayi said. “My President’s Theme will be: (Re)Building an Equitable Cancer Care Community.”

Dr. Ajayi shared his excitement on being able to focus ACCC’s time and resources over the next year on the oncology workforce, with the audience. This includes mentoring a new generation of leaders and diversifying cancer care teams to ensure better representation of the different communities patients live within. As his first official duty as ACCC President, Dr. Ajayi introduced opening keynote, Andre Harvin, PharmD, MS, MBA, executive director of pharmacy, Oncology Services, at Cone Health Cancer Center.

Robotics in the Oncology Pharmacy

Andre Harvin, Pharm D, MS, MBA, previewed his keynote for ACCCBuzz—sharing the major highlights of his address. And during his live session, Dr. Harvin discussed how incorporating robotics into the oncology pharmacy facilitated efficiency at Cone Health Cancer Center. “By leveraging robotics and improving collaboration with nursing, we reduced average patient waiting time by 30 percent,” he said. “We also used robotics to compound medication ahead of time—this strategy saved 143 hours in [patient] wait time each month.”

According to Dr. Harvin, growing healthcare costs pose a significant challenge to cancer programs and practices around the country. Further, Dr. Harvin believes that healthcare has been affected by the inflation rates that have and are still sweeping the nation. “High contract labor expenses, in addition to high salaries, are required to keep qualified employees,” he said. “Healthcare has not been immune [to inflation rates, as] a lot of people exited the healthcare field.”  By leveraging robotics at Cone Health, Dr. Harvin and his team were able to devote their time to more pressing issues. “Now, I can have that pharmacist focusing on what they do that is unique, and that is being a drug expert who can answer questions for providers and patients,” he said.

The NYC Nursing Strike

“There was moral distress. The nurses that had to walk away from that baby at 6:00 AM, the nurses that knew that patients were going to come in for chemotherapy that day and they were not going to be there to see them—there was so much distress,” said Una Hopkins, DNP, RN, FNP-BC, director of research at Montefiore Einstein Center Cancer Care, as she discussed the nursing strike that occurred in New York City earlier this year. “It is upsetting because I am nurse.”

Mark Liu, MHA, senior director of oncology strategy, transformation, and analytics, Oncology Service Line at Mount Sinai Health System & Tisch Cancer Institute, echoed Hopkins’s sentiment on the issue—where more than 7,000 nurses in NYC walked off the job and went on a three-day strike in early January. “We aim for perfection, but, in moments of crisis, there is a lot to handle,” he said. According to Liu and Hopkins, burnout, stress, and a reduced workforce contributed to the NYC nursing strike. “It wasn’t about salary. It was about fighting for safer staffing ratios and not wanting to take care of patients in hallways,” Hopkins explained.

Liu and Hopkins also asserted that the COVID-19 pandemic created a lasting strain among nurses that may have contributed to the strike. “COVID[-19] really did a lot to the nursing workforce,” Hopkins said. And Liu adding: “During COVID[-19], there were long, incredibly intense days. We were home for maybe four hours on some days. The uncertainty of not knowing when it would end—it was very tough.”

To supplement the gap in care created by the strike, Hopkins’ team sought the services of travel nurses. “We knew we were going to add travel nurses, but they are expensive,” she said. “I onboarded 485 nurses in three days.” Her team also employed specialty nurses to assist in care delivery at her cancer program.

The impact of the NYC nursing strike also affected different members of the multidisciplinary cancer care team. “Our respiratory therapists, our nurses’ aides, who were not in the same contract, our unit secretaries, they were all impacted,” said Hopkins. “The impact was real for everyone. It wasn’t just nurses.”

Moving forward, Liu and Hopkins believe it is incumbent for health systems and/or hospitals’ leadership to ensure workplace satisfaction—thereby reducing the risk of a strike among other groups within healthcare.

Creating a Real Impact

“This conference [#AMCCBS] will have an impact on improving cancer care delivery on Monday morning,” said ACCC Immediate-Past President David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA, medical director, Radiation Oncology at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, at the conclusion of #AMCCBS. The inclusion of small-group deep dives and expert-driven general sessions gave attendees unique insights and strategies to take home to improve operations at their program or practice. Looking forward, ACCC will continue to provide resources and tools based on the conversations at #AMCCBS that cancer programs and practices everywhere can use to facilitate the delivery of comprehensive, high-quality, and equitable cancer care to patients. 

Read more about #AMCCBS with ACCCBuzz's coverage of Wednesday and Thursday's events.

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