Let’s Talk About CRFT: A Hospital Social Worker’s Perspective
“I want families to know they can talk about this with their hospital social worker and not live in silence with the burden,” said Karen Turi, Pediatric Oncology Social Worker at The Children’s Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian. The elephant in the room she’s referring to is Cancer-Related Financial Toxicity (CRFT), meaning the financial barriers that accompany a cancer diagnosis.
Social workers like Karen want patients and their families to know there isn’t any shame in feeling the effects of CRFT – and they’re ready and willing to connect families to valuable resources.
The problem is real
While some are at a higher risk than others, CRFT can affect virtually any patient, no matter their insurance or savings. Medical bills pile up, and patients and caregivers are often forced to stop working because of treatment demands. This is in addition to the everyday necessities that come with a price tag – like groceries, car payments, and electricity. Suddenly, the math doesn’t add up as outgoing costs far outweigh the incoming numbers.
The growing stack of unpaid bills and dips in finances can burden families with unimaginable decisions. Some cut back on basics to pay for cancer care, forfeiting groceries for chemotherapy, for instance. Adding to college or retirement savings is no longer an option. Others skip treatment or medication doses because of financial concerns. In severe cases, patients miss too many mortgage payments and face the reality of losing their home.
No matter the level of CRFT patients experience, the financial stress of a cancer diagnosis can be so overwhelming that it impacts health outcomes. Still, the majority of patients (73%) said that they didn’t discuss the cost of care with their medical team, according to the Cancer Experience Registry developed by the Cancer Support Community.
Hospital social workers are part of the solution
CRFT is a scary reality of cancer, but it’s also a fixable issue. Hospital social workers have a wealth of information that patients and caregivers can utilize to manage their finances during treatment.
Here at Family Reach, we owe a lot to social workers like Karen who support patients at the more than 400 hospitals and cancer centers we work with across the nation. They empower families with financial resources, including our Financial Handbook, to prepare them for what’s ahead. They’re the on-the-ground heroes who recommend Family Reach to families in need, making sure they know that help is out there and they shouldn’t hesitate to ask for the support.
When social workers submit requests on a patient’s behalf, they act as the bridge that connects patients to Family Reach. Our Resource Navigators take over from there, reaching out directly to the families to identify their deepest need and how we can best support them – whether it be pairing them with a pro-bono financial planner, covering a bill, or both.
The CRFT conversation
According to Karen, her role in navigating CRFT as a social worker is to be available for families to talk about the financial barriers of their diagnosis and treatment, breaking down the specifics of what those barriers look like for them.
“I explain to patients that a cancer diagnosis creates a financial burden in ways that don’t necessarily show themselves right up front, but will over time,” she said.
When patients come to her with financial struggles – the big three being household-related bills, transportation costs, and food insecurity – she offers resources based on their burden level. Often times, Family Reach is the place she sends families.
It’s okay to ask for help – and accept it
No matter which way you shake it, CRFT is a real and potentially devastating byproduct of cancer treatment. It can be treated, although the process often involves facing uncomfortable feelings and having the tough conversations about how to pay for cancer care.
Speaking from personal experience during her late husband’s cancer journey, Karen knows how difficult it can be to accept such generous donations.
“You don’t intend to have to need the help, so when you do, it puts you in a vulnerable position. But,” she continued, “it’s humbling that people and foundations do this because families truly need the support. I know this from both ends.”
We know that there’s a lot to think about when the news of a cancer diagnosis hits the family. Healing is the number one priority – no matter the cost. However, that cost can quickly get in the way of getting better. While your social worker may initiate the conversation, don’t be afraid to bring up your financial concerns with your care team. Start asking the right questions today so you can tackle the financial symptoms of cancer as soon as possible.
If you or a loved one are facing the financial barriers of cancer treatment, don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re here to help.
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