The Upstate region of South Carolina is home to numerous cancer centers representing different health systems. Back in 2015, Kirsten Beeker and Sharon Bartlett from Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, and Jo Weathers from Prisma Health started our Upstate South Carolina Local Navigator Network (LNN) with help from Lucy Gansauer, who is also from Spartanburg Regional. Our first meetings were well-attended by the staff from various health systems. The excitement for our LNN grew and Jo Weathers recalls that “nurses felt more accepted and obtained more information at these meetings to help us in our oncology roles.” At these meetings, we formed our own community of navigators and, like AONN+, we were not comprised of just nurses. As our LNN grew, we encouraged teamwork within all roles and scopes of navigation including social workers, financial counselors, and patient navigators. Non-nursing roles were introduced to AONN+ and those members saw there was a community in which they could get support and network with others. No matter which health system they worked at, or what their title was, the Upstate South Carolina LNN welcomed and encouraged them to share experiences. The sharing time AONN+ requires at each meeting has been very beneficial as we combine our shared resources for patients throughout the Upstate region.
Within our community of navigators, we have numerous roles within oncology. Our members learn something new from one another because of the great diversity in our roles. One of our LNN members, Markylena Tolbert-Wydman, is a financial navigator. Markylena’s responsibilities range from assisting oncology patients with completing FMLA paperwork and their private cancer policies, to finding free drug assistance for their oral medications and community services that can assist with utilities, rent, food, and in-home caregiving. She has shared this information with our LNN so that other members can assist their patients. Markylena also discussed how the meetings keep her up to date on the latest medications our patients will be receiving, and the financial aid available for those drugs. She enjoys networking with other healthcare professionals from around the Upstate. We have had social workers sharing resources, medical assistants sharing experiences on patient care, and nurses discussing the variety of navigation roles they perform. This sharing of resources and experiences keeps our navigator community abreast of options available to all oncology patients.
Over the years, the Upstate South Carolina LNN has been contacted several times by outside leaders for our guidance because they were starting their own LNN. Our LNN community is successful because of our fantastic relationship with our sponsors. Our pharmaceutical representatives provide us with not only education, but also a representative to reach out to if we need assistance for a patient at the local level. These sponsors often discussed how engaging and well-attended our LNN meetings are. As an LNN, we are appreciative of the help from sponsors, as well as the resources and encouragement given by AONN+. One of our best attended meetings in 2017 was sponsored by Genentech, with Sharon Gentry as our speaker. Then, in 2019, AONN+ awarded us with the Outstanding Local Navigator Network Award. It was an honor to bring that information to our group and announce it at one of our monthly meetings.
Our local LNN members have gone on to join numerous national committees and support AONN+ National. Several of our members, including founding member Jo Weathers, participated in the beta-testing of the navigation certification. Jo now serves on the certification committee; she was a finalist for the 2018 AONN+ ONE Award and, as seen in the picture below, was awarded the 2019 AONN+ Ambassador award. Lucy Gansauer served on the AONN+ research committee, and Sonja McGatha serves on the metrics committee. Our membership chair, Jason Morrow, has been a member of the survivorship committee since 2018 and co-chair since 2020. Jason has been a panelist, speaker, and poster presenter at AONN+ Midyear and Annual conferences, and he also presented on multiple “Navigate Now: How Can We Help” Facebook Live events. Jason says, “When I joined AONN+ locally I knew I wanted to get involved on the national level. In doing so, I have been able to increase my knowledge and skill set in the oncology care and navigation arena. I have also made invaluable connections that have helped me grow not only personally as a clinician, but professionally as well.” Conferences attendance and abstract submissions are encouraged at our local meetings. In 2019, our lead, Stephanie Hoopes, submitted an abstract and was awarded the 2021 AONN+ Outstanding Poster Award for Category I: Community Outreach & Prevention. We have a great number of members who received their navigation certification and are able to host a regional site for the certification test.
The AONN+ Upstate South Carolina LNN celebrates the community of navigation it has formed. Since 2015, we have encouraged networking and education throughout our local region. AONN+ has helped foster a sense of collective community among the various navigators here through meetings, communication, and networking. We have a dedicated group that supports AONN+ national activities by either participating in conferences, getting certified in navigation, or serving on national committees. Our community continues to grow as we reach out to the diverse roles of navigation across numerous health systems. We look forward to growing our local community with the guidance and support of AONN+ national leadership. As we continue to grow as an LNN, each of us grows as individual navigators.
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