Sometimes cancer isn’t the only battle that people are facing when they visit the Sarah Bush Lincoln Regional Cancer Center.
Registered nurses, Bing Bennett, RN, and Gail Cook, RN, have seen first-hand the personal difficulties that many of their patients must continue to work through while they undergo difficult and expensive cancer treatments.
Some lose their homes and cars, and some even have difficulty paying for food and other necessities due to medication costs or the loss of a job during their illness and treatment. The nurses knew that with their combined talents for finding discounts, they could help reduce the burden on their patients.
Together, they began working to determine what needs their patients were experiencing. Cook looks for visible needs and communicates with patients to determine in what areas they may require assistance. Once she is able to identify what the patient needs, she tells Bennett, who then begins finding sales and coupons for those items. Bennett then visits local stores and purchases the items at a deep discount.
Because of their efforts, Bennett and Cook were recently awarded Sarah Bush Lincoln’s annual Bravo! President’s Award. The President’s Award is the highest honor an employee can receive and is part of an employee recognition program, which underscores the standards of excellence in the Health System.
“Some of our patients have visible needs,” Bennett said, “but others are struggling just to survive, and we don’t know unless they tell us.” She remembers a man who stopped taking medications for a blood clot in his leg because of the expense of the prescription. He almost lost his leg before she found out about his difficulty and stepped in to help.
Bennett knows about struggle. She grew up in the Philippines, in a family of six children. Her parents worked hard, but her family still experienced poverty. Her childhood taught her how to avoid overspending, save for emergencies, and how to find bargains in stores.
“My parents taught us to share our blessings, no matter how small,” she said, “Giving makes me happy.” Bennett’s love of giving and compassion for those in need led her to seek Cook’s assistance for a project that could change the lives of their patients.
Cook, too, has experienced difficult times in her life. “People stepped in to help me when I needed it, and that’s what I like to do for others,” she explained.
For years, Cook has dedicated herself to helping reduce patients’ medication costs. While she is thrilled to see new, more effective drugs and targeted therapies in cancer treatment, she also knows how expensive these treatments are. She spends most of her free time contacting drug companies to secure assistance and grants for her patients so that they can have access to the latest testing and therapies that would be too cost-prohibitive without such assistance.
“It’s so intimidating for patients to try to navigate these companies, especially while they’re battling cancer,” Cook said, “There are programs to help, and I can often get a 60 to 70 percent discount, but it’s a fight.”
“I’ve always been a bargain shopper,” Bennett said, “So I look at all the weekly ads, clip coupons from the Sunday paper and online, and then I combine store and ad coupons which helps me cut household costs by about 50 percent.”
Colleen Swick, director of the SBL Regional Cancer Center, was unaware of the women’s efforts until Bennett asked for permission to print some coupons at work. “Bing and Gail have been working together to ensure our patients’ needs are met, both inside and outside of normal work responsibilities,” Swick said, “In our break room at any time there are several large bags, specific to each individual’s needs, filled to the brim with items they had been going without at home. NEVER has either of them asked for recognition. They both work incredibly hard each and every day, very quietly, to provide unbelievable care to our patients.”
Bennett and Cook advise patients to share openly with their medical providers. “We can’t help someone if we don’t know what they’re facing, but if they’ll be open with us, there’s usually something we can do to assist them and lighten their burden,” Cook said.
Anyone who would like to assist them in their efforts can do so by donating coupons or gift cards to such stores as Walmart and the Dollar Tree. Items can be dropped off at the SBL Regional Cancer Center during regular business hours.