Roswell Park Cancer Institute unveiled a new program Friday to keep low-income and other struggling patients from falling through the cracks.
At first, the Patient Navigation Program will provide breast cancer patients a guide to help them understand and maneuver through the hospital's care system. Navigators will help fill out paperwork, find translators and schedule treatments.
They also will help patients figure out how to fund treatment and find transportation and child care if needed, among other things.
"There's a lot of barriers to getting people good care," said Dr. Stephen Edge, who heads the department of breast surgery. "The [hospital] system can be very complicated."
While the program will only be available to breast cancer patients initially, officials said they hope to expand it in the coming months.
Often, financial constraints and poor health insurance limit the ability of low-income patients to receive treatment. Minorities can often be hardest hit. Nationally, breast cancer kills 34 of every 100,000 black females annually and 25 of every 100,000 white females.
"It's so essential that the white professional woman and . . . the Latino woman from the West Side are keeping the same health protocol," said Deborah Erwin, who directs the Office of Cancer Health Disparities Research.
Mildred Kelly, one of two patient navigators, said she has seen how helpful a program like this can be.
Kelly recalled helping one breast cancer patient last year who was struggling to undergo treatment while caring for her children. She would often miss appointments because she couldn't afford to skip work and lose pay.
"So I tapped into some funds to help her," Kelly said.
Roswell Park patient April London-Bevino, of Lockport, said she thought the Navigation Program would be a godsend for people like her who have trouble getting around.
"When my husband was here 16 years ago, he had me to help him through it," she said. "Now that it's just me, I don't have anyone."