Behind the Scenes

Nurse Navigators

By Elissa Bass

Guiding patients — Magellan-like — through unfamiliar waters

“A lot of patients come to us from a surgeon. They need tests and consults through multiple departments at multiple sites. They get all this information and it can quickly become overwhelming,” she said. “I follow up, make their appointments, make sure they understand prep instructions, get them their results and make sure they understand them.

“They don’t feel well and have a lot of anxiety already. I am an extra layer of support.”

Jessica Brayman of Oakdale understands the anxiety. After suffering with sciatic pain from a discectomy, she was referred to the Hartford HealthCare Acute Spine Program, and nurse navigator Linda Brozyna, RN.

“Once I got the referral, it was like, boom, boom, boom,” she said. “Linda got me in to see (pain specialist Dr. Adrian) Hamburger within days, and I got a treatment plan and physical therapy. She is very responsive, well organized and follows up with me regularly.”

The palliative care journey can also benefit from guidance and Heather Massicotte, RN, MSN, is the East Region’s first palliative care nurse navigator.

“Heather can identify patients who can benefit from our service, and then keeps track of them when they go home or if they come back to the hospital. She helps identify support systems, and works with us to identify decisions for future care,” said Dr. Jennifer Telford of the palliative care program.

Talking about “goals of care” with patients is one of the harder parts, Massicotte noted, saying, “Patients and families do better when they know what to expect, and talking through how they want to be cared for as things get worse is imperative.”

This is why the nurse navigator concept migrated to oncology to other specialties, said Amy Beer, Cancer Institute director of access and navigation.

“When you learn a diagnosis, everything can seem so overwhelming,” she said. “Patients find themselves in a vulnerable place where they need to move forward but are overwhelmed. The navigator has a high level of clinical and organizational knowledge. They know the doctors, services and community resources. They take the burden off the patient, and help keep them focused on next steps.”

Photos by Jeff Evans

Heather Massicotte, RN, MSN, a palliative care nurse navigator, can often be found at the patient bedside discussing options of care with a patient and their family members.