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Harrison’s cancer program receives high marks

Several patient rooms on the cancer care unit at Harrison Medical Center's Bremerton campus have undergone renovations this past year. Enhancing the environment for our long-term patients, soothing touches — texture, lighting, color — contribute to calm and healing. The rooms feature maple wood cabinetry, marble-like shower, window seat, table and chairs, and DVD/TV.Harrison Medical Center received a three-year accreditation with commendation in August from the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons. The recognition was granted after an on-site visit by a physician surveyor and an evaluation of 36 criteria in eight categories. Harrison received commendation in six of those categories.

“To be accredited, you have to have a comprehensive program… They look at the degree of integration of all the components — the cancer registry, screening, treatment, support services (etc),” said Ed Smith, Oncology Services administrator at Harrison. “The criteria changes over the years, and are higher and higher.”

While Harrison has been accredited for many years, this is the second time it received accreditation with commendation — a distinction that only 25 percent of U.S. hospitals receive. The accreditation is given only to facilities that voluntarily commit to providing the highest level of quality cancer care and to undergo a rigorous evaluation process.

Leaders of the Harrison program say what makes the cancer care at its three locations (two in Bremerton and one in Poulsbo) unique is the comprehensive nature of the services, from state-of-the-art technology and the latest treatments to support groups, complimentary therapies, cancer registry and patient navigators. Harrison also has an extensive public education component, with workshops, forums and other events on various cancer-related topics.

Barb Otto, a patient navigator, said Harrison’s program is outstanding for a community hospital. “I’ve worked at big, teaching hospitals, and the oncology program here is as good as there, and very cutting edge,” she said.

As one of two patient navigators, Otto helps patients and their families weave through the various aspects of cancer care, building a bridge of sorts among physician offices, outpatient care, support organizations and others. The navigators are trained in culturally sensitive topics, and they help not only patients and families/caregivers but also physicians, from the diagnosis stage through survivorship.

“The goal is to facilitate access for patients to resources they need…but also to help them with transition and treatment,” Otto said. “We can give them information on their disease, help them identify their needs at any step — help prevent them from falling through the cracks.”

Oncology has been identified by Harrison as one of its areas of strength, and to that end the program continues to grow every year and evolve as the patient needs change. One of the new focuses is on cancer survivorship issues. “We are seeing more patients with second and third cancers,” said Carole McDowell, nurse manager of the oncology unit. “You can survive cancer now and live to have a second.”

That means surviving cancer is not the end of the experience, as cancer survivors face new sets of challenges. “Dealing with survivorship issues is the next step in cancer care,” said Ken Rarey, director of hematology and radiation oncology. Harrison even has a rehabilitation department that can work with patients on those issues.

Complimentary therapies are among the newer additions, and range from art therapy and aromatherapy to pet therapy. Patients can get visits from Magnum, a trained therapy dog, work with a certified art therapist etc.

Among the breakthrough approaches used at Harrison are personalized medicine and genetic testing and counseling. With personalized medicine, patients who have breast, colon or lung cancer can receive treatment based on their genetic makeup, with physicians and other providers looking at the patient and the disease at the DNA level. Using personalized medicine, pathologists try to answer the question of which drug the particular cancer will respond to best for the particular patient.

Genetic testing, while also based on DNA, takes a different approach. When someone is diagnosed with types of cancers that are genetic, family members can meet with a nurse practitioner who specializes in genetic counseling to examine the likelihood they, too, could get the disease, based on blood testing, family history and other factors. That allows them to consider preventative methods.

Rarey said Harrison is committed to treating the whole person, not the disease, so staff are working diligently to make the cancer program patient-friendly.

Program leaders say the nonprofit has had a great oncology program for many years, they just didn’t tell their story or touted the services.

“We’ve been expanding services, upgrading technology and providing comprehensive care,” Smith said. “We hope people know they don’t have to go to Tacoma or Seattle to get good cancer care.”

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