When disease took over, she kept control of her decisions
5 MINUTE READ
The Supportive Care Program from Horizon empowers members like Dorothy Mullen to make dignified choices about their care during their most trying times.
By Dr. Giovannie Jean-Baptiste, Executive Medical Director
Dorothy Mullen and traditional health care didn’t always see eye to eye. The 64-year-old Princeton, NJ, resident used alternative medicine to cure her ailments. For a second career, after teaching in the Princeton Public School District, she ran a nonprofit organization called the Suppers Program that educated others about the virtues of staying healthy through clean eating – that is, eating whole, minimally processed foods.
But this all changed when Dorothy received a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis in April 2019. She knew she needed help understanding her options, including those provided by the traditional health care system for someone facing a terminal illness.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the statistics on what that diagnosis means to realize that my options were going to be more conservative. But I wanted to understand the whole spectrum of services available to me,” said Dorothy.
Enter the Supportive Care Program from her health insurer, Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey. When Dorothy’s oncologist called Horizon to find out what programs it offered members facing a terminal cancer diagnosis, Helen DeLuca, a nurse case manager in the Supportive Care Program, took over.
Helen Deluca, R.N., Supportive Care Nurse, and Dorothy Mullen
“Horizon’s Supportive Care Program is designed to help our members face end-of-life decisions with dignity, with control of their destiny as far as what they want done, as much as they want done, and as little as they want done,” explains DeLuca. “Our program is a collaborative effort between the patient, their family and their doctors. Horizon’s role is as a resource and trusted advisor who can help connect the dots and empower our members.”
The ideas of personal choice and dignity appealed to Dorothy. For her, it was very important that any treatments were in line with her lifestyle.
In Dorothy’s case that meant palliative care, which provides patients suffering from life-limiting illness a level of relief from their pain, symptoms and stress while also improving the quality of life for them and their families. Supportive Care nurses like DeLuca work with members, their family and their doctors to help them identify personal care goals, navigate the health care system, understand their benefits and collaborate to address members’ specific needs.
Dorothy and DeLuca worked together to find the right kind of palliative care program that would allow Dorothy to make all of her own important decisions. For Dorothy, that care was found at Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, which has partnered with Horizon BCBSNJ and its Supportive Care Program for more than a year.
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“It’s very unusual in medicine for the patient to be asked, ‘What is important to you? What are your goals of care?’” said Stephen Goldfine, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Samaritan and Dorothy’s palliative care physician. “This is a program that focuses on the patient, and how we can provide an additional layer of support when they are undergoing treatment.”
Dorothy clearly laid out how she wanted to manage her diagnosis and palliative care. She told her doctor that she didn’t want to take any opioids or medications that would cloud her judgment. “She was looking for comfort measures that were outside of medicine,” DeLuca said.
As part of the Supportive Care Program, DeLuca and Goldfine met every two weeks, with phone calls in between, to make sure Dorothy’s wishes matched her ongoing needs. For example, at Dorothy’s request, Dr. Goldfine installed a catheter to drain fluid from her chest, which lessened her pain and helped her breathe easier day-to-day.
Throughout the process, Dorothy has been in charge of her decisions, which has helped her and her family cope better with her prognosis.
“We miss out on opportunities to be real with one another if we don’t deal with these issues of how we make medical choices,” Dorothy added. “I want the people in my life to know what my wishes are while I’m still articulate and able to express myself. And supportive care means that I can have whatever services I need on my terms. I’m an organic gardener, and it’s very much in keeping with who I am.”
Dorothy is thankful for everything that Dr. Goldfine, DeLuca and the Supportive Care Program was able to do for her, and encouraged more people to reach out to Horizon BCBSNJ for help.
“What I like about Horizon’s program, and of course this is all very new to me, is that through the collaboration with Samaritan, it’s compassionate care,” she said. “I like it because it attracts people to these professions who adore what they do.”
Compassion is indeed at the heart of the program, brought to life in all the ways members need during their most trying times.
“It is gratifying to offer help to our members when they are navigating such a complicated and terrifying situation. Empowering them with information, helping them communicate their wishes and supporting them as they make important decisions are the goals,” said Don Liss, MD, Chief Medical Officer for Horizon BCBSNJ. “If we can help our members and their families manage this journey and maintain dignity, we’ve made a difference.”
Get more information on the Supportive Care Program
To learn more about the Supportive Care Program, call 1-888-621-5894, option 2, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern Time. TTY users can call 711 during the same hours.