Minnie Kahn, far left, led the Social Services Department during the early years of City of Hope.
The department is a tightly knit unit of specialty services — pain and palliative medicine, psychiatry, psychology, clinical social work, spiritual care, health education, patient navigation and more. The goal is to proactively identify, assess and treat the complex challenges that patients and families face throughout their cancer journeys.
The Department of Supportive Care Medicine was established in 2007, but its roots go back nearly a century to the founding of City of Hope as a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1914. From the outset, City of Hope has pursued a model of compassionate, patient-centered care before, during and after treatment.
For patients and families, a large institution like City of Hope can be overwhelming to navigate, which adds to the stress of coping with illness. Patient navigators, who are part of the Department of Supportive Care Medicine, help guide and support patients and families through the complexities of the health care system. These highly trained professionals provide personalized assistance to patients and families.
“The patient navigator is a single human being who patients know they can call when they have a question or a need. Patients and their families need one person they can turn to and rely on,” said Sheri Biller, former City of Hope board chair. Biller and her husband, Les, donated the seed money and additional funding to establish the Sheri & Les Biller Patient and Family Resource Center
Today’s patient navigators reflect a tradition that dates back to the mid-1920s. At that time, the Social Services Department, led by social worker Minnie Kahn, served as a “point of entry” for new patients. As Kahn wrote in 1934: “For the past seven years, an effort has been made to meet each individual at the train station, to welcome him, to try as far as possible to alleviate the feeling of being a ‘stranger in a strange land.’”
Another beacon of hope for “the stranger in a strange land” is the specially trained team of volunteers at City of Hope. By greeting new patients, escorting them to appointments and visiting inpatients and caregivers at the main campus, these volunteers help reduce the stress and isolation people may feel during their cancer journeys.
Volunteers have always played a role at City of Hope. In an oral history interview, Beverly Horowitz shared a childhood memory from the 1930s (Horowitz, now deceased, was the widow of City of Hope’s legendary executive director Ben Horowitz):
“My earliest recollections [of City of Hope] were … with my mother when she was part of a union brigade bringing chicken soup to the patients. The union had a bus in which they would take some of the workers who volunteered to bring little gifts to the patients … and my mother was in charge of the chicken soup brigade. And once a month there was a busload that came out [to the hospital].”
A cancer journey does not stop when treatment ends. The journey continues, often for years. As far back as 1928, City of Hope recognized the need to provide continuing support for tuberculosis patients who had been cured and discharged from the hospital. Often these ex-patients felt isolated in the community. Many of them needed emotional support, financial help and job training. The Los Angeles Sanatorium, as City of Hope was known then, partnered with the Jewish Ex-Patients Home to provide the continuing support those patients needed.
Those seeds of support, planted almost 90 years ago, have grown to become an important branch of today’s Department of Supportive Care Medicine: SupportScreen
, a computer-interface biopsychosocial screening tool that is recognized nationwide as a model for 21st
At the very beginning of their treatment, patients answer a series of interactive questions. SupportScreen identifies physical, practical, spiritual and other psychosocial concerns of patients and caregivers. It alerts the health care team to barriers to care, informing supportive care specialists and identifying available community resources. SupportScreen also provides personalized educational information based on the specific needs of patients and family members.
A century-old legacy of patient-centered care isn’t easy to live up to. But the Department of Supportive Care Medicine at City of Hope has proved that it can meet the challenge of putting patients and families first.