KINGSPORT – Six months ago, Kathy Fleenor received news no woman wants to hear – a diagnosis of invasive breast cancer. Fortunately, she turned to Holston Valley Medical Center, Tennessee’s first hospital-based breast program accredited by the American College of Surgeons, for lifesaving care.
Fleenor underwent initial screening at Holston Valley’s Comprehensive Breast Center and later had surgery at the hospital. Holston Valley recently became the only hospital in the state to earn accreditation from the American College of Surgeons’ National Accrediting Program for Breast Centers.
“They seemed to have good processes,” Fleenor, 61, a retired manager at Eastman Chemical Co., said of Holston Valley. “There’s professionalism by everyone involved. They’re very compassionate. They’re very attentive to their patients and making sure they’re comfortable. They even sent me get-well cards after the biopsy.
“I was also impressed with how promptly they were able to send reports to my family doctor. You always knew what the next step was going to be.”
The breast program's accreditation is good for three years.
“Accreditation is a significant achievement that reflects highly on our breast program – the Comprehensive Breast Center and the oncology program collectively,” said Jason Searcy, Holston Valley’s director of oncology services. “It’s excellence in interdisciplinary breast cancer care.”
To be accredited, breast centers must voluntarily commit to providing the best possible care to those who have diseases of the breast. A breast center has to undergo a rigorous evaluation and review of its performance and compliance with NAPBC standards. Accreditation gives assurance of quality care to patients, physicians who want to be known as breast experts and payers of care.
Dr. Jim Phillips, imaging director at the breast center and a board-certified radiologist, said accreditation affirms Holston Valley’s commitment to excellence.
“This accreditation is a validation of what has been going on for a good while,” Dr. Phillips said. “It confirms our whole program is on track and doing what we should be doing.”
Dr. Phillips said the road to NAPBC accreditation started in the 1990s with the development of a multidisciplinary team that includes surgeons, radiologists, pathologists, oncologists and radiation therapy. The goal was a better approach to breast cancer treatment through earlier diagnosis and quality decisions to facilitate timely care.
Weekly team meetings provide an opportunity to discuss each newly diagnosed patient and debate optimization of their care. The merits of new techniques and therapies are frequently discussed.
NAPBC accreditation is the most recent honor for a breast program that has been repeatedly recognized for excellence.
The Comprehensive Breast Center was recently reaccredited by the American College of Radiology. The center has held that designation since 1989. Since 2009, the facility has also been designated a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence.
The center also is the only facility in Tennessee to offer breast-specific gamma imaging, which can be particularly effective at detecting breast cancer in its earlier stages in patients with very dense breasts when other, more traditional diagnostic tools may not detect cancer.
Fleenor underwent annual mammograms at the Comprehensive Breast Center prior to the discovery of her cancer. In early November, Fleenor had another mammogram, and the radiologist discovered a potential problem. This was followed by a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, a breast MRI and biopsy, which confirmed the presence of a tumor.
Fleenor spoke with Amy Gentry, lead technologist at the breast center, about her options for treatment.
“She talked to me a lot about the Comprehensive Breast Center and the types of accreditation they had and also the equipment they had that no one else had,” Fleenor said.
Gentry also discussed Holston Valley and the team effort by doctors to review cases, and that impressed Fleenor. Fleenor underwent a double mastectomy at Holston Valley and completed physical therapy at the Sullivan Center, a department of Holston Valley.
“Women are very vulnerable at that time, and they show a lot of concern and caring without being too effusive or ultra-sappy about it,” Fleenor said of the breast center’s staff. “You have a level of confidence when they do things that they know what they’re doing.”
Fleenor said the staff was always happy to answer her questions.
“I’d ask questions such as, ‘How do you know this mass is different?’ ” Fleenor said. “They had answers for me. They could explain why the mass was different from just fibrous tissue.”
Another element of the breast program at Holston Valley is the presence of breast oncology navigators. These employees guide women through breast cancer treatment.
Bristol Regional Medical Center also offers breast oncology navigators.
“That was another thing that was a positive experience for me, and man, did I ever utilize her,” Fleenor said of LaCosta Brown, her breast oncology navigator at Holston Valley. “I’m a big e-mailer, so we e-mailed almost daily there for awhile with questions.
“If she didn’t know the answer, she would go find the answer. It had to do with questions such as, ‘Would my insurance cover this? What kind of exercises do I do?’ ”
Dr. Phillips said Holston Valley’s breast program is modeled after the nation’s leading breast centers.
“When we first set out to develop this approach, we tried to find the best places with the latest technology,” he said. “We wanted to find the best way to do it and then build on it. We have a full armament here to treat the patients as necessary. While most women will not need more than mammography or ultrasound for their evaluation, having the highly specialized equipment available can help identify the most subtle malignancies while reducing the number of unnecessary biopsies. We want to use the right equipment to make the call and facilitate the best care for the patient.”