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Meeting the needs of cancer program staff to ultimately improve patient outcomes is at the heart of the presidential themes of ACCC’s current and immediate past presidents. CANCER BUZZ spoke to Krista Nelson, who advocated for the professional well-being of cancer program staff and Dr. David Penberthy, who aims to leverage technology to transform cancer care delivery and the patient experience. Hear how both tenures aim to focus on what’s most important in the cancer care community—supporting patients, clinicians, and staff.
Krista Nelson, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW
ACCC 2021-22 President
Program Manager of Quality & Research, Cancer Support Services & Compassion
Providence Cancer Institute
“ACCC is this giant community and I’ve had the opportunity to connect and hear firsthand from many people about their struggles…and what’s been most meaningful is making sure the leaders are taking care of themselves…and feeling supported by the programing we’ve created.”
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA
ACCC 2022-23 President
Medical Director, Radiation Oncology, Bon Secours, Southside Regional Medical Center
“ACCC is uniquely positioned to promote best practices throughout the nation in both community oncology practices and academic oncology practices...we want to leverage technology to improve the oncology workflow, patient experience, and ultimately improve their outcomes.”
Krista Nelson’s, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW, President’s Theme 2021-22
Making the Case for New Staff: A series of seven discipline-specific business briefs, including the justification for hiring oncology social workers, pharmacists, financial advocates, genetic counselors, and more.
Mindfulness Meditations: To help members of the cancer care team better manage stress and improve their overall well-being, Ms. Nelson—and several special guests—hosted a Mindfulness Meditation series.
[MINI-PODCAST] Ep 74: The Business Case for Hiring Oncology Social Workers
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA, President’s Theme 2022-23
[Video] Dr. David R. Penberthy on Looking Ahead
New Association of Community Cancer Centers president looks to technology-driven solutions, article from Healio.com
[ACCCBuzz Blog] Recap: ACCC’s 48th Annual Meeting and Cancer Center Business Summit Part 1 and Part 2
CANCER BUZZ: Today on this very special edition of CANCER BUZZ, this state of oncology as told by two ACCC presidents. Welcome back to CANCER BUZZ, I'm your host Summer Johnson. In March of this year, ACCC members from across the country met in Washington, D.C. and online for the Association’s 48th Annual Meeting and Cancer Center Business Summit (AMCCBS).
The Annual Meeting is an important forum every year where oncology professionals discuss the latest trends and advancements in the business, policy, and technology of cancer care. We caught up with Krista Nelson, ACCC President, as she wrapped up the final days of her very busy, 2021 term. Krista, outline for us your president's theme, if you will, some of the highlights and successes of the supporting ACCC programming.
Krista Nelson, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW: Thank you so much. My ACCC theme was focused really in—as we are emerging, we thought we would be emerging out of COVID—and instead we're still sort of in COVID, but we've learned these real-life lessons. And I think I focused on three main themes. One was support for the caregiver, and I'm going to say that first, because I think—having been doing the direct work and witnessing the suffering among the staff and the support, it's really just making sure we have supportive interventions and education to support.
So, we did a lot of things like mindfulness sessions for our members. We did a lot of coffee chats, which for me, was this opportunity to connect, but also a way to support and hear what was going on with our membership. The second part of my theme was around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And I think what we've seen so much, it's become just so parent in our country, and in our cancer centers, is trying to pay attention to how health equity can be improved, barriers to care, and what we can do to help support centers and becoming aware of their own bias.
And thirdly, which is something also very close to my heart is helping build a business case for supportive care, specifically how to hire oncology social workers. We know that comprehensive cancer care is the right thing to do. And we also know that if we pay attention to social determinants of health, that we impact cancer care, and we will have better outcomes if we pay attention to those and have people to address those in our cancer center.
CANCER BUZZ: We're here at the Annual Meeting this week—and we've heard from a lot of folks this week—that you were just the right president at this time during this challenging year. Can you talk about some of the conversations you've had with ACCC members over the past year on how this programming impacted them?
Krista Nelson, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW: Yeah, I think as a social worker, I'm obviously very connected to story—and to connection and community. And ACCC is this giant community, and I have had this opportunity to connect and hear firsthand from many people [about] the struggles, staffing, vaccines, mandates. I mean, everything. I just think back to how much things have changed in the past couple of years. I think what's been most meaningful is really at every moment, making sure that the leaders are taking care of themselves and having a pause, acknowledging the suffering, but also then moving forward and feeling supported by some of the programming that we have created.
And what we've tried to do is have some tools—how to—how can they support their members and have those easily accessible in our website.
CANCER BUZZ: You're passing the baton today to Dr. Penberthy—and you both have themes that focus on improving patient care—what are you hoping that you've left with ACCC members, and the greater oncology community, about the connection between patient care and staff resiliency?
Krista Nelson, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW: There's a study actually that was done by one of my colleagues, Dr. Pearl, and it was around palliative care and end of life. And one of the findings that came out of that—were that physicians who were more burned out—those patients were more depressed. Now, which caused which? We don't know. If you take care of a group of patients who are more depressed, it's probably harder to come to work. And if you have an oncologist who's burnt out and stressed—or a provider or a social worker—who isn't really listening, how does that make us feel as individuals?
So, the equation that we can control at ACCC and that we can help provide education in is how we support our providers—the people that are out there. And I think that goes with leaders too, because everyone on the healthcare team, and everyone who's a member of ACCC, they may not be providing direct care, but they are impacting the team. You know, burnout is a cycle, and so we have to make sure that our leaders are feeling resilient, our providers are feeling resilient, and therefore—our patients will feel that that compassion as well.
CANCER BUZZ: Finally, what have you heard from the panels and sessions at the Annual Meeting this week that has encouraged and excited you about the future of cancer care?
Krista Nelson, MSW, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW: I can speak to the last panel-[which] was around building supportive care programs and looking at benchmarking data. I think a lot of people want to improve care, but we just don't quite know how many of each staff we need and how they should be positioned. And the thing that I'm feeling most hopeful about is that all these business meetings and these business plan, we're hearing plan early. Think about putting supportive care into your pro forma at the beginning. You know, I think as we look at staffing ratios and we looked at number of providers and we're going to use model for other disciplines as well, we started with social work and we're saying, okay, we have one social worker per 300 patients and per, you know, 4.5 providers—that gives information to cancer centers when they're building pro formas—when they hire some new doctors to say, “Hey, we're going to need a 0.4 social worker and a 0.2 genetic counselor”.
So, I'm really excited about us doing the research to give our membership the information they need to be able to provide the best quality care at their cancer center.
CANCER BUZZ: Also at the meeting, Dr. David Penberthy was named ACCC’s incoming president. Dr. Penberthy is the Medical Director of Radiation Oncology at Bon Secours, Southside Regional Medical Center in Petersburg, Virginia. We spoke with him right after that announcement about his plans for his 2022—2023 tenure.
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA: So, this is an exciting time in oncology—the science of oncology is completely expanding and exploding—and one of the challenges as a practicing oncologist is staying up to date with the latest, greatest treatment techniques. And so, I think ACCC is uniquely positioned to actually promote best practices throughout the nation in both community oncology practices and academic oncology practices. And so, I really want to use this next year to promote best practices. And I think with technology, we can also leverage that to actually improve patient outcomes, patient experience, and all of that.
CANCER BUZZ: So that leads us into your presidential theme, Dr. Penberthy, why don't you outline that for us for the next year?
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA: Well, we want to kind of surveil all the oncology programs and ask them what their pain points are and figure out ways to alleviate those pain points. And sometimes it's ways large and small, you know, so if somebody has a solution for fixing a challenge in too long of a waiting room experience, we want to promote that. And so, we want to leverage technology to improve the oncology workflow, patient experience, and ultimately improve their outcomes.
CANCER BUZZ: What are some of the projects that you've been involved with at ACCC leading up to this point?
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA: So, I've been affiliated with ACCC for several years now. I've served as the treasurer, at ACCC and in the treasury—you actually get to see a very granular way of how ACCC kind of interacts with all the state societies, all the different organizations, and it's really a collaborative organization, and multi-disciplinary. You get to kind of coalesce all the different perspectives—it's not just medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology—but all the associated patient experience factors such as nutrition, social work, navigation, and transportation and all that sort of thing.
And so ACCC is a great organization for figuring out how to optimize the patient experience in so many different ways.
CANCER BUZZ: Dr. Penberthy, what has been the most eye opening or exciting thing for you over the past several days here in Washington, D.C., meeting with your colleagues?
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA: Number one, this is my first meeting since the pandemic where we're actually getting to meet in person. So, I think I have a little bit of Zoom fatigue that I think many of us may have—and so I really like the information that's being promoted—but also the side conversations that you have, you know, over lunch, over dinner. And it's just, I think, a more rich experience. And so, I'm really looking forward to having more in-person meetings.
CANCER BUZZ: We'll be following along as for your tenure over the next year. Thanks Dr. Penberthy.
David R. Penberthy, MD, MBA: Thank you for having me.
CANCER BUZZ: For more on this year's Annual Meeting—and to learn more about both of these presidents, their priorities, and the related ACCC programming—you can check out the links in the show notes. We know your time is valuable, and we want to thank you for supporting CANCER BUZZ. For the entire CANCER BUZZ team, I am Summer Johnson.
CANCER BUZZ: CANCER BUZZ is a resource of the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC).