'Toccare' theme continues with new cancer center

Patient comfort is focus

The recently opened cancer center at Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center offered the perfect opportunity for the Safford, AZ, facility to expand on its institutional theme — "Toccare Lo Spirito" or "To Touch the Spirit" — says Julie Johnson, CHAM, the hospital's director of revenue cycle management and HIPAA privacy officer.

From the access services perspective, she notes, the cancer center is an area where the focus is less on accuracy and speed of registration and more on providing a caring atmosphere for the patient.

"Nothing is lost, but we spend more time on these patients," Johnson says. "If someone is coming in for a repeat visit, the [registrar] might just greet the patient by name and say, 'You haven't moved since the last time you were in, have you?' If the patient is in a talkative mood," she adds, "the registrar might come out and speak with the person for a moment or two."

The registrar who has become the "face" of the cancer center is Jodi Ybarra, who has worked with Mt. Graham's chemotherapy patients for several years, Johnson says. "She is warm, concerned, friendly, and genuine."

Ybarra will leave her registration post to sit next to a new patient in a private area — rather than at a desk — and record the necessary information on a clipboard, she says. "It's important to be one-on-one. They do get correct registrations, but the focus is on the comfort of the patient."

When the volume increased so that a second registrar was needed, Johnson adds, that person, Debra Dicus, was chosen because of her customer service skills and her desire to be in that environment.

"Many of the chemotherapy patients know her because she previously worked in the laboratory, where they had to have lab work done prior to, or sometimes after, treatment," she says. "So her's is another face that patients recognize and are comfortable with."

The registrars take new patients on a tour of the facility before handing them off to a nurse, who introduces them to the physician, Johnson says.

The infusion room — where patients may spend eight hours or more — faces Mt. Graham, the 10,000-foot peak for which the hospital is named, she says. "There are picture windows from floor to ceiling and the most comfortable chairs. It is so calming and peaceful."

Quilted laptop coverlets, handmade by members of the hospital auxiliary, hang on a bar on the back of the chair, for patients to use during treatment and even take home if they wish, Johnson says.

Interior decorating for the center — which features landscapes and desert colors, including deep purple — was done gratis by the wife of the chief operating officer, she adds.

Although the hospital campus is relatively small, Johnson notes, the cancer center is about a block uphill from the main facility, so golf carts were purchased to help move patients and supplies back and forth when necessary.

"[The carts] help with patients who have to go to hospital for a blood test or some other purpose before treatment," she says, adding that security personnel and a couple of other employees do the driving.

The cancer center enables Mt. Graham patients to have chemotherapy close to home, rather than drive two-and-a-half hours to Tucson or about three hours to Phoenix, as was previously necessary, Johnson notes.

A community survey conducted before the center opened determined that chemotherapy services would be used by area residents, but did not show a similar need for radiation therapy to be provided locally at that point, she says. "Our next focus will be to keep radiation patients from having to [make that drive] to get treatment. We're looking at doing that within the next year."

Space for specialty physicians

While the west side of the new facility is devoted to the care of Mt. Graham's cancer patients, at present, space on the east side is rented to outside specialty physicians, Johnson explains. "We have audiologists or cardiologists who might come in [from another city] and hold a clinic. We have a urologist who does procedures inside the hospital on some days and on other days holds a clinic here so patients don't have to go to Tucson for those appointments.

"If we get to the point where we need the entire cancer center for our patients," she adds, "those physicians can be moved to a new location on campus."

(Editor's note: Julie Johnson can be reached at juliej@mtgraham.org.)