Upstate News

December 30, 2004
Darryl Geddes 315 464-4828

University Hospital receives state grant to develop enhanced social work services for cancer patients and families

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – University Hospital has received a $59,600 state grant to develop an enhanced social work program to help patients and families-already faced with an array of social and legal issues-cope with a cancer diagnosis or treatment.

University Hospital and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City are the only hospitals to have received funding from the state Department of Health for the program.

To be eligible for the enhanced case management services, patients must be residents of Onondaga County and receive cancer treatment at University Hospital. Patients are referred to the program by physicians, nurses and members of the hospital’s continuum of care department.

“A cancer diagnosis for anyone can be devastating, but coping with the diagnosis and treatment for a family already besieged by legal, financial, employment and family-related issues can be even more traumatizing,” said Cynthia Lange, who, with Ann Goodgion, makes up the program’s social work care team.

Lange said the issues facing these patients and their families can be extremely complex and require special assistance to find workable solutions. “If a mother is receiving cancer treatment and is the only parent at home, there will be issues related to child care that need to be addressed,” she said. “We’ll help the mother find the community connections that will work best for her family.”

Since the program began in late September, Lange and Goodgion have been confronted with other concerns from families, such as job security in the wake of a cancer diagnosis, and legal matters stemming from marital and child custody issues.

“We’re reaching out to attorneys and the various legal services groups as well as other community services to help resolve these extenuating family issues so that everyone can support the parent in this time of great need,” Lange said.

In addition to the case management aspect of the program, the state grant is enabling University Hospital to develop cancer support groups and educational programs for all patients and their families. One such support group is aimed at cancer patients between the ages of 25 and 40.

Goodgion said older adult cancer patients and survivors and their families are well represented at support groups in the area. Specialized support groups also exist for children coping with cancer and their families, but few services target younger adults.

“Many men and women in this age group are still planning for their future with regard to career options and marriage and children,” said Goodgion. “How they understand and react to the diagnosis could have implications for how they live the rest of their lives. Life does not and should not end with a cancer diagnosis. Hearing from others facing the uncertainty of cancer, can help in many ways.”

Also planned is a support group for caregivers of people with cancer and a series of community education workshops addressing a variety of issues, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act and how it relates to cancer care. The social workers are also planning stress reduction and meditation groups for individuals seeking additional intervention strategies.

The funded project includes forming a network of community agencies service cancer patients and their families. These public and non-profit organizations will collaborate to link needed services to affected individuals and their families.

Dianne Martin Brownell, project supervisor and social worker at the Regional Oncology Center, said this state-supported program will benefit not simply patients, but the entire community. “Through this program we will be better able to identify the key resources within our county that can offer these families support and help during this difficult time,” she said. “We also want to help these community agencies understand the nuances of a cancer diagnosis and what special concerns, anxieties it holds for families already in need of their special services.”

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