If anyone has learned what City of Hope patients and their families need, it must be Terry Hernandez.
Hernandez has called City of Hope her home away from home for 14 years, with more than 13 of them as a representative in New Patient Services. She has heard patients’ worried voices, and she has seen the relief on their faces when they meet their physicians. Medical records, insurance issues, family support — Hernandez has dealt with it all.
It is only fitting, then, that Hernandez has filled a new City of Hope post: the first patient navigator at the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center.
Patient navigators will be personal guides for patients and their families. These trained professionals will serve as a touch-point and a central, knowledgeable resource. They will provide patients with someone they know they can call when they have questions.
“We’ll be the link, the human face, the contact person who can assist patients,” said Hernandez, who is bilingual in Spanish and English.
The Biller Resource Center covers a spectrum of expanded supportive services throughout City of Hope. Although the Biller Resource Center’s new physical space in the Northwest building will not open until summer, programs already have begun. New support groups offered through the center are opening to patients and family members, and plans are under way for a variety of other offerings.
The patient navigator program is the latest step forward.
As the first of four patient navigators planned for the Biller Resource Center, Hernandez this month will begin helping incoming patients and their families from a few selected practices in the Division of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research — new patients who are just beginning to see medical oncologists Robert Morgan, M.D., Lucille Leong, M.D., Przemylsaw Twardowski, M.D., and Mihaela Cristea, M.D. The program later will expand across the Medical Center.
“I’m excited that we will be able to start offering this to our patients,” said Morgan, interim medical director of the Biller Resource Center. “Patient navigators will provide a much-needed service to patients who have many questions, but aren’t sure where to go for answers.”
New patients will be referred to a patient navigator after they complete their first appointment at City of Hope and prepare to begin treatment at the institution. They will remain linked to that navigator throughout their time as City of Hope patients.
Hernandez understands the confusion and needs of local patients and their caregivers. A lifelong resident of the San Gabriel Valley, Hernandez first visited City of Hope in 1992 to accompany a close friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I fell in love with the campus and wanted to be here,” she said. Within two weeks, she was working in the Department of Anatomic Pathology as a clerk. And another nine months later, she joined New Patient Services.
“I felt there was a need there, that we could help people,” she said. “I tried to ease them through their anxiety.”
In her new position, Hernandez already has met with Child Life staff members, social workers and several other Medical Center health-care professionals to better understand their offerings, and she is settling into her temporary office in Machris.
“My desire will be to connect our patients with any and all the departments that are available for them, whatever their needs may be,” she said. “I’m honored and excited to be one of the patient navigators.”