Eight Massachusetts Healthcare Facilities Join in Statewide Cancer Rehab Initiative

The 345,000 cancer survivors living in Massachusetts will soon have increased access to crucial rehabilitation services to help them heal from cancer treatments, thanks to a new statewide initiative launched in collaboration with Oncology Rehab Partners and The Friends of Mel Foundation.

The initiative’s goal is to establish cancer rehabilitation services across Massachusetts, reaching survivors in every county in the state. The following healthcare facilities will develop and implement services through Oncology Rehab Partners’ STAR Program® Certification:

  • Berkshire Medical Center, Pittsfield
  • Brockton Hospital, Brockton
  • Emerson Hospital, Concord
  • Hawthorn Medical Center, Dartmouth
  • HealthAlliance Hospital/Simonds-Sinon Cancer Center, Fitchburg
  • South County Physical Therapy, Westborough
  • St. Vincent Hospital, Worcester
  • Winchester Hospital, Winchester

The STAR Program Certification is an evidence-based model of cancer rehab created by Dr. Julie Silver, an assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School and a cancer survivor herself—it’s an endeavor for which Dr. Silver was recently named a Top Innovator in Medicine 2012 by The Globe 100.

The Friends of Mel Foundation will provide partial funding to six of the participating hospitals. Based in Hingham, the organization was founded by the friends of Mel Simmons, a long-time Delta Air Lines flight attendant who passed away from breast cancer. With a mission to help transform the lives of individuals living with cancer, The Friends of Mel Foundation’s support of the Massachusetts initiative will make it possible for survivors across the state to get rehabilitation care so they can recover their strength and energy and feel their best.

Endorsed by the American Cancer Society, this initiative signifies a critical achievement in cancer survivorship and quality of care in the Commonwealth. “Rehabilitation is a key part of cancer care, and every hospital should offer it to their patients in a best practices model,” says Debborah Smith, Senior Operations Vice President of Health Initiatives for the American Cancer Society in New England.

Unlike survivors of other major illness and injury, most cancer survivors in the U.S.—there are more than 13 million—are encouraged by their oncologists to get back to the lives they led before the diagnosis and accept their ‘new normal,’ without follow up care that includes cancer rehab. However, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation, and surgery cause debilitating physical and emotional problems such as pain, fatigue, weakness, immobility, cognitive impairment, sleep difficulties, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, and depression.

To address survivors’ unmet needs, Dr. Silver conceived Oncology Rehab Partners, based in Northborough, Mass., which she cofounded with Diane Stokes, MBA. From education and training to evaluation and treatment protocols, Oncology Rehab Partners’ STAR Program Certification gives clinicians and institutions the tools to develop and deliver specialized rehabilitation services, called STAR Programs, for cancer survivors who suffer the side effects and aftereffects of treatments, whether they are in remission, living with cancer or cured. All of the services offered by STAR Programs, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, mental health counseling, and consultations with rehabilitation medicine physicians (physiatrists), are typically covered by health insurance.

The proliferation of cancer rehab services in Massachusetts will have far-reaching psychosocial implications for residents. “Families will become functional again. Absent employees will return to the workplace. Survivors will be able to contribute more fully to society, and insurers will pay less toward long-term health problems,” Dr. Silver says. “It can also eliminate unnecessary medical tests that result from poor healing, and Massachusetts will be spared interminable disability payouts.”

Medical technology is rapidly improving cancer treatment—cancer mortality rates in Massachusetts have dropped 12 percent for women and 21 percent for men, since 1991. But survivors pay a high price for lifesaving treatments. Quality survivorship programs that include cancer rehab services will enable survivors to reach their best possible health and resume full, active lives.

Last October, Rhode Island made history as the first state to mount a cancer rehab initiative, bringing STAR Program Certification to more than 20 facilities and thousands of survivors throughout RI, thanks to the financial support of The Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation. Now, with the help of The Friends of Mel Foundation, Massachusetts, the state with the nation’s most progressive healthcare system, has taken the torch and is reaffirming its commitment to quality medical care for all by giving cancer survivors a healthier future through rehabilitation.