RCCA nurses go to Capitol Hill to advocate for cancer patients

Each day, oncology nurse practitioners Rachel Carroll and Amita Patel advocate on behalf of their patients, helping ensure people suffering from cancer get the care and support they need.

Recently, the two nurses, who work at Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA), Central Jersey Division, took their advocacy to a higher level — the federal government.

Carroll and Patel traveled to Washington, D.C. as part of the Oncology Nursing Society’s 4th annual Capitol Hill Day, held in September. Oncology nurse practitioners from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital to educate lawmakers and become part of the national healthcare conversation, with the goal of making a real difference in the lives of millions of patients.

“Along with our clinical work, we are also active in the North/Central Jersey Chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society,’’ said Patel, MSN, APN, AOCNP. “We are both on the board. I’m past president and Rachel is the nominating chairperson for that chapter. Every year, ONS organizes this event and this year we were both accepted to go.’’

The chapter includes more than 400 members who gather monthly to explore the latest developments in cancer care and to learn from each other, the two nurses explained.

After spending a day learning about the proposed legislation and the ins and outs of advocating for public policy change, the two met with staff members for U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, as well as staffers in the offices of several members of the New Jersey delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

They educated the policymakers’ staff on four bills.

One was the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, which would provide funding to open centers to train nurses and other medical professionals in palliative care and to educate patients about this important service, explained Carroll, MSN, APN, AOCNP.

Palliative care is focused on symptom management for patients undergoing long-term treatments or who are managing chronic disease, Carroll said.

“A lot of people don’t know what palliative care is,’’ Patel added. “They just think hospice.’’

Another measure, the Cancer Drug Parity Act, would require insurance coverage for oral cancer treatments to be on par with coverage provided for intravenous treatments.

“A lot of new advances in oncology involve oral medication,’’ Carroll explained. “They tend to have fewer side effects. They also give patients more independence in treatment. But right now, there are very high co-pays and deductibles for oral medication. A lot of patients have trouble accessing those drugs. Cost should not to be an issue in treatment.’’

A third bill — the Lymph edema Treatment Act — would improve insurance coverage for needed supplies for patients suffering from this disease, which is a chronic condition affecting millions of Americans. It is most often caused by cancer treatments that damage the body’s lymph system or immune functions.

These “compression” supplies to treat the disease are currently not covered by Medicare.

And last, the two advocated for the Preventing Opportunities for Teen E-Cigarette and Tobacco Addiction (PROTECT), which is aimed at preventing the use of tobacco-related products among teens, especially in light of dramatic increases in young people “vaping.’’

“We advocate for our patients every day at work,’’ Carroll said. “To do that on a larger scale and know we can be a voice for our patients in the broader healthcare system was very exciting.’’

Patel added that having support from RCCA’s leadership team is also empowering.

“They support us to advocate in our daily work and they supported us to do that on a larger scale,’’ she said.

Both said they were well-received and were able to educate staff on the impact these measures would have on patients throughout New Jersey.

“It was nice to offer them a real view into what these patients are actually going through and to be able to advocate for them in that way,’’ Carroll said.

“It was a great experience,’’ Patel added. “The bills were really geared toward addressing the difficulties our patients face every day. I’m hopeful that we will see real change at the federal level.’’

With more than 30 local offices in New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut, RCCA is one of the largest oncology networks in the country. RCCA offers the most advanced treatments, including breakthroughs like immunotherapy and targeted therapy. With a staff of highly trained, capable and experienced oncologists and other medical professionals, RCCA provides the highest-quality care, focused on the individual needs of each patient.

For more information, visit www.rcca.com