The government shutdown’s devastating effect on cancer patients
The shutdown of the federal government could harm medical research in this region, forcing some research teams to delay their work, even discontinuing treatment for patients in ongoing medical trials.
Among some of the programs sending their staffs home because of this shutdown is the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Nancy Zbaren runs the information service and says, “I’m shocked. This program serves cancer patients and their families.”
They do clinical trial searches for patients who sometimes are looking for newer research studies to be enrolled in or to look at other alternatives from other standard care. They respond to between 10,000 and 11,000 phone calls, emails or live help sessions monthly.
“So for the patients who call us, families who call us, they won’t reach us,” says Zbaren.
And you figure – well people could just find the answer by going to their own doctors. But that’s not often the case.
“We are contacted by lots of people who do not have insurance and we try to give them places that they can call, resources that they can follow up with to figure out how they get their care,” she says.
Ironically, it sounds like those are the kind of people who would be helped by Obamacare – whose delay is the purpose of the shutdown.
And then of course, there’s the impact on her staff, who are sitting at home.
“We are taxpayer funded. To not be able to serve the taxpayers that are funding us – it’s just so hard. It’s just so hard for me to see that this has really happened,” Zbaren says. “I’m looking at my contact center and I have all of these empty work stations and I should have staff there talking to cancer patients. But they’re home.”
But the really devastating impact is on the most desperate cancer patients – the ones waiting to be matched with clinical trials.
“We have clinical trial searches that we did not get done and when we were shut down, those searches are sitting here because we’re unauthorized to complete them,” Zbaren says. “It’s just so frustrating. I just find it so difficult to believe that we can’t answer calls from cancer patients. It’s just unconscionable.”
Which leads us to ask – why would this be considered a nonessential service? Nancy says during the last shutdown, 17 years ago, her call center was allowed to remain open.