NBHH to offer chemotherapy services 

In an effort to provide a full complement of services to its patients, North Big Horn Hospital will be making outpatient chemotherapy infusions available sometime in the fall of this year. The exact date services will begin has not yet been set.

“Our mission is to treat the whole person, because there is so much more to this than just getting an infusion,” said Chief of Nursing Tina Toner. “Actually, that’s a small part of it, in a lot of ways. Dealing with cancer is difficult for patients and their families. We want to provide convenience for them during that difficult time.”

The hospital staff will be working with oncologist Dr. Sameh Abuerreish of Billings Clinic. All NBHH providers will participate in the program, working with Abuerreish to create continuity of care during the treatments.

Currently, Dr. Abuerreish conducts outreach clinics in Cody and Billings, but Toner said the hospital hopes he will be able to conduct outreach clinics at NBHH, as well, in the future.

“We would like him to do outreach clinics here, but he is unable to work it into his schedule right now. But that is a goal for the future,” said Toner.

The chemotherapy treatments will be conducted in the new infusion suite at the hospital. The treatments will be offered on an outpatient basis.

“There are so many burdens that go with having cancer and travel for chemotherapy is one of them,” said Toner.

Toner said providing infusion services in general is in keeping with the hospital’s goal of treating the “whole patient.”

“We’re committed to the fact that this is not just about coming in and getting an infusion. It’s about managing the overall care of the patient and helping them navigate all of their appointments and making sure they are getting all of the right information,” explained Toner. “We basically want to be the lifeline for our patients that are undergoing chemotherapy.”

Two nurses already on staff at the hospital – Dalyn Farwell and Traci Kannard – will receive special training over the next few months to prepare for working with cancer patients.

“There’s a lot of additional training required to do this and we have selected two nurses to embark on this education,” said Toner. “They will undergo a combination of online education, testing and clinical experiences in Billings and Cody to be prepared for this work.”

Toner said the two nurses were selected in part based on their personal interest in the work.

“Both are very passionate about wanting to provide this service to our community,” said Toner. “Both have personal reasons that make them feel very connected with providing this kind of care.”

Toner said the hospital is preparing to deal with the complexities of chemotherapy treatment.

“Chemotherapy can be a very aggressive treatment and patients can be in a very fragile state during it,” said Toner. “There are independent checks that we perform to insure the correct dosage and precautions we have to take in how we dispose of it. It’s a very involved infusion.”

The chemotherapy treatments will add to services already offered in the hospital’s new infusion suite. Toner said more and more patients are transitioning their infusion care to NBHH, since the suite opened a few months ago.

“For a patient who feels very connected with our hospital and with our nurses, continuing their treatments here will be beneficial,” said Toner. “I think a long drive after chemotherapy can be very difficult, since patients can sometimes experience side effects from the treatment. Oftentimes they don’t feel good and now they have to get in a car and get home. There is definitely coordination involved in making it happen. For example, sometimes we need to special order certain medications.”

Focus groups

The hospital will be conducting two patient focus groups to help plan the chemotherapy program. The first session will be held in the hospital lobby on Tuesday, June 13, at 4 p.m.  Another session will be held on Tuesday, June 20, at 6 p.m. A tour of the hospital’s new infusion suite will be made available at that time, as well.

“We wanted to hold an open forum to hear about the experiences of community members who have either had chemotherapy or helped a loved one who had chemotherapy,” said Toner. “We’d like to know what things they liked and what things were difficult, because we want to make sure what we offer meets the needs of the community and is the very best program that it can possibly be.”

Toner said she has already heard from former cancer patients who are excited to share their experience. She said often the experience can be life changing and the former patients are excited to be a part of making it the best experience it can be for others.

“I was really surprised how much people want to be involved with this,” said Toner. “In my mind it’s their program and it’s the community’s program. These meetings will help guide some of our decisions.

“We want to hear about the little things that can be controlled to make it a better experience. We’re looking forward to hearing what people suggest, especially if they have any experience with this type of treatment. We want to hear from both patients and family members because cancer is one of those things that affects the whole family.”

For more information call Toner at 548-5282 or email her at ttoner@nbhh.com.

By Patti Carpenter