Many patients at the Cancer Center at 208-bed Good Samaritan Hospital in Kearney, Neb., either lack insurance and/or drive long distances to receive their care. In addition to the financial burdens of hospital bills, they struggle to cover their copayments on medications and the gas they need for transportation.
Oncology outreach nurse coordinator Dana Welsh, a native of nearby North Platte, Neb., received a newspaper article from her mother about an oncology center in Welsh's hometown that raised $7,800 to aid its patients, sparked by two high school seniors whose mothers each had breast cancer. At first, Welsh thought it was a nice idea and tucked the article away. But then she began thinking.
“Nurses are always trying to get help for these folks,” Welsh says. And as more nurses at her cancer center struggled with ways to get patients the assistance they needed, Welsh says, “No hard feelings against my hometown, but we thought, 'We can do what they did, and we can do it better.' ”
So, in October 2009, Kearney Tackles Cancer was born, and in the past four years, local students have raised $100,000 in a town of 30,000 people for this Patient Assistance Fund, leading Good Samaritan to receive the 2012 Spirit of Excellence Award for Service.
Gas and medications are probably the top two requests from the more than 200 patients who have received help, says Shanna Gillming, nurse navigator at Good Samaritan. “Probably 99% of our patients are completely shocked, first of all, that when they express a need, I walk away, I come back and I have $200 in my hand. It's not something we're going to turn in an application for and wait 30 days. It doesn't have any hitch to it. It's just given to them.”
Welsh recalls one patient who drove 30 miles each way and arrived one day with a flat tire. A radiation therapist noticed that all of the man's tires were “pretty much shot,” and they arranged to have the local Wal-Mart replace them. Another patient said she no longer had to decide between food and anti-nausea medication.
“I am a single mom of a 9-year-old son,” one patient wrote. “I found out I have breast cancer and I'm not sure what I would have done without the money the Cancer Center offered me. Thank you many times.”
The effort received initial in-school leadership from Kearney High School psychology and political science teacher Mary Kay Redman, a cancer patient at the time who succumbed to the disease a couple of years ago, Welsh says. A new crop of students has kept it going each year, she says, and the effort has since spread to Kearney Catholic High School and the local University of Nebraska campus. A local print shop helped design and sell T-shirts to raise money, and carwashes and other events are also part of the mix. Local businesses have donated food and beverages for the annual barbecue, as well as prizes for raffles.
“It's really just an eye-opener,” says senior Brittani Koster. “It's so good to give back to the community, to help people in need.”
Macey Adair, a senior, said she became involved through a friendship with Jake Redman, son of Mary Kay. “It's helped me decide what I want to do in the future: social work, and something involving volunteer work and giving back to the community,” she says. “Mary Kay Redman touched all of our hearts. I can't imagine high school without being part of Tackles Cancer.”