NORTH CONWAY, NH -- Navigating the emotional, financial and logistical complexities of a cancer diagnosis and treatment plan can be overwhelming for anyone, especially for those living in a rural area like Mount Washington Valley. But through the support of a grant from the Harold Alfond® Foundation to the MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, patients at Memorial Hospital now have access to the services of Christy L. Hensley, MSW, a dedicated Oncology Clinical Social Worker.
Prior to coming to Memorial earlier this year, Christy L. Hensley worked in hospice care for six years in Carroll County and on the New Hampshire Seacoast region. Hensley has a Master of Social Work degree from Boston College in both Clinical and Macro Social Work with a focus on Global Practice. Before landing in the Granite State, she travelled the world working in a variety of roles. She has provided disaster relief services after the Tsunami of ‘04 in India, interned with a Women’s Rights Organization focusing on India’s newly passed domestic violence law and studied and volunteered in Romania and Russia.
With her world travels behind her, she now focuses on caring for cancer patients in this small rural community. While her list of responsibilities is long, it all has one theme in common -- overcoming barriers to receiving the life-saving treatment patients need to beat cancer. Those barriers may be health insurance (or lack thereof), financial issues or transportation coordination. Hensley said, “I help find resources and community services to address those barriers to receiving treatment. Sometimes I’m addressing the needs in patients’ lives that existed before they had cancer. I help them find health insurance, apply for Medicaid or apply for disability coverage.”
Transportation is frequently an obstacle as the closest location for radiation treatment is in Scarborough, Portland and Sanford, Maine. Radiation often requires weeks or months of consecutive days of treatment, a 100+ mile daily round trip burden. Hensley cites programs like those offered through the American Cancer Society, who can help locate discounted rates for lodging or financial assistance for transportation for treatment in Maine, or transportation services offered through Medicaid. She also works with local organizations such as RSVP for help with transportation; Jen’s Friends for financial assistance; and Celebrate Life which serves towns in the Ossipee area.
But transportation isn’t the only obstacle to overcome. Oftentimes it’s identifying the support and services they’ll need in the home. Hensley’s experience in hospice and home care has proven to be valuable. “I have a good idea what they are going to need. They might need the services of visiting nurses, or help with activities of daily living, especially as they go through treatment. They might have more weakness or fatigue. I try to anticipate the need. I want to be sure they get the additional support they’ll need to function the best they can.”
Meeting the need and “connecting the dots” is a big part of her day. “I help connect people with the VA and make sure they get all the benefits and services they are entitled to. Patients vary - some have few needs, some have great support, some have good insurance or financial support. Other patients come in and it’s a crisis … no insurance and not much support. A couple of people came in recently without housing. It’s really hard. I try to meet people where they are at. If they can’t do a lot independently, I will fill out applications with them. Others I can direct to resources like ServiceLink, then they can follow up. My goal is to empower people to get the support and services they need.”
Hensley is actively working with other organizations in the Valley. “Everyone in the community is really trying to do their part to meet the needs of residents living with cancer. Jen’s Friends does tremendous good. Patients without housing have benefitted from the new Way Station.”
With her master’s degree in Social Work, Hensley also has the expertise to provide patients with emotional support with a new or recurring cancer diagnosis. She refers patients to Journey of Hope, Memorial’s long running cancer support group facilitated by oncology nurses and to counseling services in the community. “ We also help people have discussions about palliative care, hospice and help out with advance care directives.”
The oncology nurses are part of the larger Oncology team. “It’s a great work environment in the Oncology and Infusion Center. The staff is incredible. It’s a very strong team. Everyone works great together and is dedicated, knowledgeable and hard working. They are very professional but at the same time they lighten the heart of our patients. They know how to joke around and interact with the patients. Some look forward to coming here as they've built great relationships with the staff. Everyone is full of compassion. The new Center is absolutely an asset for the community being so close to home.” Christy works closely with Amber O’Leary, RN, Oncology Nurse Navigator; Oncology Nurse Practitioner Leona Cloutier, APRN-FNP and Oncologist Peter Rubin, MD. “It’s amazing to have these resources right in North Conway, NH,” she added.
For more information about Oncology services at Memorial Hospital, visit them online at www.memorialhospitalnh.org/cancercare
. For more information on MaineHealth Cancer Care Network, go to https://mainehealth.org/cancer