The renowned Ochsner Cancer Institute in New Orleans inaugurated its Mesothelioma Patient Assistance Fund, the first mesothelioma-specific fund at a major cancer center in the Southeast.
The fund will provide much-needed financial relief for patients diagnosed with this asbestos-related disease.
Patients coming to Ochsner for pleural or peritoneal mesothelioma treatment will be eligible for up to $1,500 in assistance to help cover expenses for them and their families. The funds may be used for travel, housing, meals, medication or various emergency needs related to care.
Ochsner has carved a niche in recent years as one of the premier mesothelioma specialty centers in the U.S., and now it’s adding more to its growing, patient-first reputation.
A recent donation from The Mesothelioma Center and Asbestos.com helped jumpstart the fund, but its longevity is contingent upon more benefactors making donations.
The foundation recognizes donors who have given at least $25,000 to the Ochsner Health Care System. Asbestos.com is the newest member of Ochsner’s Benefactor and Heritage Foundation.
“This is wonderful news for our patients,” said Alaina Mokhtarnejad, BSN, RN, thoracic oncology nurse navigator at Ochsner. “A lot of times when a patient is diagnosed with cancer, the financial burden to them exceeds the health care burden. This will help ease it.”
Patients and families at Ochsner can apply for the funds through their nurse navigator or the social worker assisting the medical staff. The assistance approval will come from a panel of staffers at the Ochsner Cancer Institute who will review each application.
“Our patients should feel good, knowing that now there is a fund like this for mesothelioma,” Mokhtarnejad said. “It’s a little less for them to worry about now. Sometimes, with a rare cancer, they feel so isolated. So many times when a patient is diagnosed, their first worry is ‘How am I going to afford all this?’ This new assistance fund will help.”
Because of its reputation as a specialty center, Ochsner has begun attracting patients from across the Southeast. Many come from neighboring states, which often increases their financial burden with travel and lodging costs.
Ochsner officials are hoping to make the Mesothelioma Patient Assistance Fund a permanent part of their cancer institute, but its permanence is dependent upon ongoing contributions.
“Our goal always is trying to make health care more affordable and accessible,” said Anna Combs, Ochsner Cancer Institute director of development. “It hurts to hear someone say, ‘I can’t go for treatment because I can’t afford it.’ An assistance fund like this can really help change that.”
Ochsner has specialists for pleural and peritoneal patients. Surgical oncologist Dr. Charles Conway handles the peritoneal patients. The pleural mesothelioma patients come under the care of surgeon Dr. Brian Pettiford.
Louisiana, which has the second highest cancer incidence rate in the country, has had more than its share of mesothelioma, creating this need for a specialty center with experience in handling this rare and complex cancer.
Conway has had great success with his combination of cytoreductive surgery and Heated Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC). Pettiford and de Hoyos have been doing the complex debulking/hyperthermic chemoperfusion treatment that has extended the lives of many pleural mesothelioma patients.
Patients at Ochsner often speak about the outstanding, post-surgery care, which is vital to lengthy survival. It’s one reason that Ochsner was listed as one of the “50 Great Health Systems to Know,” in Becker’s Hospital Review of 2015.
“We can fix the disease here, but we can’t relieve the financial burden,” Mokhtarnejad said. “It’s why the gift to start this program was so important. It can make a difference.”