May 19, 2015 | by Ellen Alperstein
Eight years ago, Matthew Loscalzo surprised himself by accepting the offer to become City of Hope’s administrative director of the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center and executive director of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine. At the time, he was administrative director of the Science of Caring Department he had founded at UC San Diego, and he loved it. He thought it would be his last professional gig.
But City of Hope made him the proverbial offer he couldn’t refuse. “It took a lot of chutzpah for them to have this vision,” Loscalzo said in a New York accent as thick as cream cheese. Armed with best-in-show credentials, he directed the organization of a department in a way no other cancer center had dared to conjure.
Loscalzo’s success in establishing and sustaining the department is only the latest of his remarkable achievements, which have been recognized recently with two prestigious awards. In October, he received the Noemi Fisman Award for Lifetime Clinical Excellence from the International Psycho-Oncology Society. This year, he received the Holland Distinguished Leadership Award from the American Psychosocial Oncology Society.
“I get recognition because my team is smarter than I am,” Loscalzo, L.C.S.W., was quick to acknowledge. “I work with a bunch of people who are fantastic.”
He began his career at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and spent many years at Johns Hopkins’ Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center. He took the City of Hope job to move away from a profession-centric approach to supportive care; to move out of the silo into the barnyard and beyond the back 40 via an integrated, interdisciplinary team of pros holding common values.
Even at fine institutions, he said, supportive care is often delivered from “within a silo. The psychiatry department separate from social work, separate from psychology, separate from palliative care and pain management … I got these awards,” he said, “because we’re unique.”
At City of Hope, “we’re organized around patient care,” Loscalzo said. “The way a patient sees us is not as a bunch of egos, not with the inertia typical of health care today. We created the model of supportive care that is the best in the world, and we want to replicate it.”
The Fisman award recognizes innovative and sustained achievement in clinical service; it celebrates work of substantial impact on patients and their families. The Holland is the psychosocial oncology profession’s top award, recognizing the scope of a career and the leadership it has demonstrated.
Those descriptions render well in elaborately calligraphed certificates, but what do they mean for patient care? Supportive care aims to: minimize the impact of illness, manage its symptoms, and deepen the meaning of life for patients and their loved ones.
Loscalzo has been striving to meet those goals clinically since the early 1980s, when he was a pioneer in cancer pain management using hypnosis, meditation, sex therapy and other then-unorthodox treatments. Today, one example of integrated innovation is City of Hope’s gender medicine program, which, he explained, helps couples recognize that “we’re all prone to respond a certain way to the stress of disease, as a certain gender and as an individual. … Maladaptive responses to stress don’t advance healing. They’re not therapeutic.”
Loscalzo attributed his Holland award to his broad, not just deep, experience. “People in the psychosocial field usually focus on one or two of its specialties — research, education, clinical care or creating programs. I’ve done them all,” he said not as a boast but a fact.
As the Liliane Elkins Endowed Professor in Supportive Care Programs and a professor in population sciences, Loscalzo is the primary investigator of two current National Institutes of Health grants to teach international health care professionals how to build integrated, interdisciplinary supportive care cancer programs. He’s also the site principal investigator for a third grant to teach advanced cognitive behavioral skills.
The researcher/educator/practitioner/program creator’s reach has always exceeded his grasp. He was president of both the American Psychosocial Oncology Society and the Association of Oncology Social Work. He’s a reviewer for several professional journals, including Psycho-Oncology, the leader in the field, and the third edition of the book “Psycho-Oncology” was just published. Localzo served as an editor for the last two editions, and was a contributing writer on the first edition of this gold-standard text.
He’s done a lot, but Loscalzo’s primary focus is on City of Hope’s “patient- and family-centered care. We’re not a bumper sticker,” he said. “We’re the real deal, and we're just warming up.”
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