Jerry Clemons thought he had found the smartest man in the hospital.
“Dan’s the man,” said Clemons, who recently completed 45 treatments of radiation for prostate cancer at UCHealth Cancer Center in Fort Collins. “When I didn’t have answers, Dan did.”
“Dan” is Daniel Norfolk, (pictured above) a registered nurse with more than a decade of oncology experience and one of 40 people throughout UCHealth who serve as nurse navigators.
“My goal is to bring down anxiety,” Norfolk said. “As patients are trying to grasp everything dealing with their new health issue, I can help lead them.”
The nurse navigator’s role is three-pronged: provide education on the diagnosis and treatment; connect the patient to services, such as rehab or dietary programs; and break down barriers to the patient getting well, such as addressing financial or transportation issues.
Nurse navigators are a key component to making sure patients have access to high-quality care, said Joann Lovins, director of oncology for UCHealth Northern Colorado.
“When you first come down with cancer, it’s a really scary thing,” Clemons said. “You have so many questions.”
Clemons and his wife, Kathy, were first introduced to Norfolk in March during their first visit with radiation oncologist Dr. Joshua Petit, of UCHealth. During the entire two-hour meeting, Norfolk took notes. Afterward, he handed Clemons those notes and his business card and told him to call with any questions.
“There is so much information given at these first meetings that only about 20 percent is retained,” Norfolk explained. But it wasn’t just the first meeting that Norfolk attended; he accompanied the Clemons family on their entire journey through treatment.
“Every time I had a question I would call Dan,” Clemons said. “And I was shocked. Dan was on the other end of the line every time. When you first start out, you have many questions concerning your illness. Dan was the man.”
Kathy also had questions.
“I think I talked to Dan more than Jerry did,” Kathy said. “The worst thing in the world is wondering and trying to get answers and then having to leave a message or get the run-around. Dan was prompt and always followed through, whether it was having the answer right then or checking with Dr. Petit.”
Oncology is one of the more complex health care paths to navigate, Lovins said. Depending on the type and severity of cancer, a patient can have more than 100 different appointments in their first year. Clemons is on a hormone suppression therapy program, and he requires a shot every three months. Two months into that therapy, he started radiation therapy, which is five days a week for nine weeks. He also meets with Petit once a week.
Patients also have access to numerous resources outside their doctor visits. They can use the center’s Wellness Place, which includes access to massage therapy, nutritional services and support groups. A navigator helps coordinate all these services for the patient.
“Dan is the person that helps make it better for the patient,” Petit said. “He reduces that burden by coordinating everything. And that coordination then allows us to do things more efficiently for the patient by using the resources we have for them. Nurse navigators like Dan make it all happen.”