Steering With Care

Steering With CarePatient Care Navigator Provides Individualized Assistance and Support 

By Jennifer Walker-Journey

Fran Kirschten, a 61-year-old rental manager, had a suspicious mammogram in the summer of 2007. Because she has a sister with breast cancer, Kirschten was understandably rattled when she was sent by her doctor for a biopsy at the Olson Women’s Diagnostic Center at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast. Then she met registered nurse Kristi Roark.

Roark was more than a nurse – she was the center’s patient care navigator, a relatively new position at the clinic that was created to coordinate seamless care for patients and their families, from diagnostic appointments to surgery and beyond. Roark is the direct point of contact for both the patients and the physicians who refer patients to the center. She provides education and personal support to patients and works directly with physicians and their office staff to coordinate care, schedule appointments, organize records and expedite the process.

“This role enables our patients to receive timely care and immediate follow-through,” says Meg Norwood, marketing coordinator for Sacred Heart Hospital. “Thanks to her help, we can now move from screening to surgery in a matter of three to five days, which is truly phenomenal.”

For Kirschten, having a patient care navigator meant having a friend on the inside – someone who could guide her through the physical and emotional turns, beginning with the biopsy and her diagnosis of Stage I breast cancer; continuing through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation; and culminating in her physical and emotional recovery.

Roark’s mission is to make the patient’s experience as comfortable as possible. It could be as simple as providing educational materials, or as involved as taking a patient to see the room where her biopsy will be done, showing her the equipment and explaining the procedure. Sometimes it is just giving a hug, telling a joke or sharing a tear.

“I’ve done it all with patients,” Roark says.

Roark maintains a relationship with patients during and after their treatment through regular phone calls and e-mails. She also runs a monthly breast cancer support group in which patients can share stories and emotions or hear from professionals in the field.

Roark also teams patients together for one-on-one support, as she did with Kirschten and another recently diagnosed patient.

“It just feels good to be able to give back and to say to someone, ‘It’s going to be all right. You can get through this. I’ve been there,’” Kirschten says.

Patients are not the only ones who have benefited.

“It’s really made a difference with the ultrasound and mammogram technicians,” Roark says. “We get to know the patients better and enjoy hearing about their progress.”

The patient care navigator role has received such rave reviews from patients and their families that “we are considering implementing the model throughout the hospital,” Norwood says.


Breast Cancer Support Group

The Olson Women’s Diagnostic Center at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast offers patients and survivors the opportunity to gain strength through sharing at its Breast Cancer Support Group. The purpose of the group is to empower breast cancer patients and survivors through education, spirituality, support and humor. The group meets at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the center. For more information, call Olson Women’s Diagnostic Center at (850) 278-3980 or visit


Carpet One Welcomes a Cure

Carpet One Floor & Home stores across the nation are teaming up to “Welcome a Cure” for breast cancer. Each store sells specially designed welcome mats tagged with a pink ribbon. Each spring and fall, a new colorful design is offered. Proceeds from the welcome mats, which sell for $19.99 each, go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. For more information or for a location near you, visit