In 2012, Lorna Cook MACN co-founded Chemo@Home, a company which provides chemotherapy to cancer patients in their home. Eight years later and Lorna’s drive, passion and dedication has been rewarded with selection as a Finalists in the 2020 Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers. As part of our Meet Your Trailblazers Series, Lorna shares her personal journey with us on how the program is using nurse-led models to transform and improve the quality of care for cancer patients. Be sure to show your support for Lorna and other Trailblazer Finalists Matiu Bush and Shannon Wallis MACN by registering to attend the free virtual award ceremony on 23 November 2020 where the Health Minister will announce the winner.
- Tell us about Chemo@home. How does it improves the lives of patients?
Chemo@home is a nationwide, multi-award-winning company founded in 2012. Our team of nurses administer chemotherapy and immunotherapy to patients with cancer (and some chronic illnesses), in the patients’ own home or workplace. They are supported by pharmacists and administrators who ensure that the service is safe, efficient and convenient and as patient centred as possible. We take as much of the stress out of cancer treatment as we can. For example, patients don’t need to worry about driving to hospital, parking or weather because we come to them. We have an on-call nurse telephone service 24/7 to give patients and their family that extra peace of mind. Furthermore, patients with private health insurance are fully covered with no out of pocket expenses and we also treat many public patients as well.
We document, audit and report on every aspect of care we provide and have delivered many research papers. The research shows that the service is safe and convenient and appreciated by the consumer. We employ approximately 80 staff across Australia and are growing every day especially with COVID-19 causing patients to rethink their desire to travel/attend hospital when their immune systems are already compromised.
- Can you elaborate on the leading role nursing care plays in the delivery of these services?
The nurses are the heart of our service and the face of the company, and provide treatment to patients every day. Although our nurses are highly trained chemo nurses, we also employ on culture-not just their experience and skills. The culture of our company is everything and we put a lot of time, effort and money into ensuring we choose nurses who are passionate about their roles, patient centered and open to learning. Our nurses have multi-faceted roles which change day by day depending on the number of treatments being provided each day.
- What health care challenges have the chemo@home initiative helped to overcome and how has it done this?
We have overcome so many challenges, both regulatory and legislative. One of the main challenges has been to overcome peoples fear of cancer and their complete faith in the medical model. To convince patients that it is perfectly safe to have chemotherapy administered outside of a hospital has been a barrier that has taken many years to break down. When we first started the business people would say “you can’t do chemotherapy at home”, but as we have grown and received support from key players in the health care arena (eg Private Health Insurers), now people say “how much does it cost?” or is there a waiting list?
We are also competitors to big hospitals who build their business case around the medical model so it has not been easy to convince other health professionals to support us. However, as patients have experienced home chemotherapy feedback has slowly changed the course of treatment options. Patients are now starting to demand the option of home treatment.
- Why is it important that the impacts of nursing-led projects are publicly acknowledged through initiatives such as the Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers?
Many nurses have had their research or entrepreneurial spirits dampened by long working hours in their normal jobs, family commitments and lack of opportunities. I personally have lectured to many nursing groups over the years and it seems that so many nurses have great ideas but do not have the resources or support to initiative something commercially viable other than perhaps the expansion of a research project IF there is support.
I know for me, I invested my life’s savings, mortgaged my house, risked everything to start a company that didn’t break even for the first seven years. My family and friends thought it was an honorable idea but were afraid of the huge risk I was taking. It has taken a toll on the hours I have been able to spend with my family, I rarely get holidays, went without a wage for the first three years…and so much more. Not many women would be able to take such a risk, yet, if I can do it so can others. I hope I can break down barriers by being a trailblazer and make it easier for other nurses.
- What advice would you give to a nurse thinking about nominating for the 2021 Award?
I think nurses should nominate for the Award because by stepping forward you too can do one more thing for our profession. You can be a role model, a mentor and a glass ceiling smasher. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose it’s about showing up, leaning in and being part of the discussion. Nursing is not just a job; it is a profession and should be a passion and a calling. I have always believed you can’t be an initiator of change unless you come to the table.
The winner of the Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers will be announced by the Minister for Health during a virtual award ceremony on 23 November 2020. Minister Hunt will be joined by a host of high-class dignitaries including ACN President Professor Christine Duffield FACN, CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN, and 2019 Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers Winner Nikki Johnston OAM MACN. We encourage you to attend this occasion and acknowledge the achievements of our nursing peers. You can register for the event here.