Kentucky Pink Connection is expanding beyond providing services for breast and cervical cancer patients to help people with all forms of cancer, and it is changing its name to Kentucky CancerLink.
"This is the time to take that leap of faith," Executive Director Vicki Blevins said, adding that the change is in response to frequent requests for help from people with other kinds of cancer.
"We've heard that cry for a long time."
Blevins created the nonprofit in 2008 to help fill the gaps in cancer care — such as assisting with transportation needs to appointments and treatments — and to help patients and families dealing with breast and cervical cancer navigate the complex health care gantlet. Since then, it has helped nearly 4,000 patients in 117 of Kentucky's 120 counties.
The business's mission was focused on those with breast and cervical cancer. In recent years, the group received grant money to branch out to encourage colon cancer screenings. However, Blevins said, it was clear there was a broader need for the services her agency provides.
"It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of patients with lung cancer, throat cancer or ovarian cancer, and they would need a wig or a gas card and we were unable to offer that assistance," she said.
As the organization's mission grows, the staff is growing as well. Blevins began with one full-time and one part-time position. Now, she said, there are three full-time employees and one part-time.
While the change had been considered for some time, Blevins said the Affordable Care Act pushed her to action. The ACA will give more people health insurance, she said, but it also puts a lot of people in the health care system who don't know the basics of how to make the system work for them.
The expanded mission, Blevins said, will include a focus on teaching people how health insurance works, how to understanding billing, how to find a doctor and the importance of having a primary care physician, or "medical home." The end result, she said, will be helping people switch from using the emergency room as a primary source of care.
Expanding services will increase the number of patients served by nearly 50 percent, she said. That will require an additional $200,000 a year, she said.
To help bring in those donations, Blevins is making the pitch to potential corporate donors emphasizing that helping patients work through the system and coordinating services can make the health care system work more effectively and, in the long run, save money.
If patients keep their appointments, providers get full reimbursement. If workers stay healthy with preventive care, they stay more productive.
Melissa Karrer, program development director, knows the importance of having a helping hand when going through cancer treatment. She is recovering from breast cancer. Her experience "made me really hyper aware" of all the challenges patients face.
Blevins said the expansion is a risk, but she is hoping, "our community and our state will rally around us."
"I just feel like the sky is the limit with this," she said.
She also wants to encourage other local nonprofits that help cancer patients to reach out to her.
"Give me a ring," she said. "Sharing resources and collaboration is important."