Brooklyn Man Fights Cancer with Support of Community Health Worker
Through the program, Community Health Workers help patients with scheduling appointments, speaking to physicians and accessing social services.
When Neville Facey walked into NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County last year, it marked the beginning of the most difficult time in his life.
Facey, 58, who moved to Brooklyn from Jamaica in 1988, turned to the hospital for help after experiencing shortness of breath and noticing a lump on his neck. After receiving a biopsy and a series of images and scans, doctors discovered he had stage 3 lung cancer.
“It was terrible news. I felt very bad,” Facey said, who lives in Flatbush. “I couldn’t do anything else.”
Oncologist Dr. Edwin Chiu began Facey on chemotherapy and radiation and gave Facey optimism for recovery.
“For a guy like Mr. Facey to go through all these treatments, the biopsy, the scans, bloodwork, chemo and radiation, it takes a toll on a person and their family,” said Dr. Chiu. “We gave him hope and that’s actually very important whether you have cancer or not.”
After starting treatment, Facey was referred to the NYC Health + Hospitals Community Health Worker program by his primary care physician. The program, offered at 11 public hospitals and six Gotham Health centers, assigns a worker to a patient for three months to help with tasks like scheduling appointments, communicating with physicians and resolving issues with medications as well as navigating access to social services such as housing, financial aid, legal counsel and more.
Community Health Workers serve adult patients in primary care, families with young children, and adults with special needs, such as homelessness, involvement in the criminal-legal system, and behavioral health conditions. With more than 250 new Community Health Workers and 5,000 patients, NYC Health + Hospitals has built one of the largest health system-based community health worker programs in the country.
Facey was paired with Community Health Worker Wanita Skerrett, a contact tracer formerly with the NYC Test & Trace program who wanted to continue helping people by connecting them with vital resources.
“When I first met her, I could tell she was very intelligent. She worked with me very well,” Facey said. “She was a very nice person. Anything I needed, I’d call her.”
Skerrett began her work with Facey by learning about his history, family and assessing his needs, which centered on access to transportation, medication and financial assistance.
“I got to know what he enjoys doing, what he’s hoping for in the future and what he thinks he needs my assistance for. That’s most important,” said Skerrett. “Our goal is to work on what the patient wants to address because at the end of the day we’re looking to give them the motivation to better their health.”
Skerrett first focused on transportation so Facey could get to his numerous appointments, helping him enroll in Access-a-Ride, the city’s paratransit service. Although Access-a-Ride enrollment requires an application and lengthy approval process, Skerrett secured interim access for Facey while his application was in review, which allowed him to start chemotherapy right away.
Facey needed a CT scan shortly after starting chemo to evaluate how effective it was and to determine whether treatment should continue or be adjusted. However, he could not find an appointment sooner than three months. After contacting a department head and explaining how a delay could be detrimental, Skerrett helped schedule him an appointment for a week-and-a-half later.
“Oftentimes a patient just needs somebody to advocate for them,” said Skerrett. “Sometimes they don’t know how to explain their particular situation so others know how serious it is.”
Since then, Facey has continued with chemo treatments every two weeks. Today, he’s in good spirits and aside from occasional pain in his neck, he’s doing well. Facey has also regained enough of his strength to walk to and from his appointments. Dr. Chiu even expects he’ll soon be able to return to work.
“You need the full team support to make this happen,” said Dr. Chiu.
Skerrett has been one of the most impactful people in Facey’s recovery, as she has helped him access Medicaid, find funds through the Lung Cancer Society and enabled him to better understand his medications.
“She helped me with my medications, my doctors, appointments, and keeping up with everything,” Facey said. “She was there for me. It made me feel great to have the extra help.”
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