Ever committed to delivering the highest quality patient care, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James) recently opened a new Onco-Palliative Clinic, a first-of-its-kind pilot study that is already transforming the way lung cancer patients’ symptoms are managed.

The clinic focuses on improving quality of life for patients, who often experience symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, depression, loss of appetite and pain because of their cancer and the side effects of treatment. By incorporating palliative medicine into lung cancer patients’ regular oncology appointments, experts in symptom relief are able to work side by side with oncologists to address the holistic needs of the patient in one seamless appointment. And thanks to a generous gift from longtime OSUCCC – James donor Vicky Lippert, the clinic will be studied to ensure it is sustainable and translatable to other cancers.

Vicky, an Ashland, Ohio, native who has given nearly $250,000 to lung cancer research at the OSUCCC – James, was honored in September 2018 during the Onco-Palliative ribbon-cutting ceremony. She understands the importance of the clinic firsthand, having lost her husband Larry Lippert to lung cancer in 2007. Even her years of working as a nurse at Ohio State’s medical center couldn’t have prepared her for the challenges of taking care of a terminally ill spouse. “I can’t change my husband’s outcome, but maybe we can change the outcome for other people,” Vicky says.

Vicky was already a strong supporter of the OSUCCC – James, especially through her gift to create the Larry L. and Vicky L. Lippert Lung Cancer Endowment Fund for Early Detection and Prevention to honor her husband’s memory in 2016. When she learned about the need for funding for the Onco-Palliative Clinic, she jumped at the chance to make a major gift that will prove the return on investment of this palliative care model over time.

The idea for the clinic was inspired by Carolyn Presley, MD, MHS, assistant professor of medical oncology specializing in the treatment of older adults with advanced lung cancer. Before being recruited to the OSUCCC – James last year, she experienced the benefits of an oncology-palliative care model at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, where she did her clinical rotation following her training at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and Yale School of Medicine. At the VA, she saw patients with a palliative care nurse practitioner whose expertise helped ease patients’ symptoms. “It was wonderful because the palliative care team has expertise that really augments the cancer care patients are getting,” says Presley.

Knowing that she could help start a similar clinic at the OSUCCC – James contributed to Presley’s decision to join Ohio State’s faculty this past year. “When I interviewed, I met Dr. Ellin Gafford, the division director of palliative medicine, and I told her about the model I was currently practicing in and the need for co-management. She was totally on board, and that was one of the deciding factors in coming to Ohio State. I knew there would be a collaborative environment.”

That collaborative environment includes thoracic oncology leaders who have supported the clinic’s mission, as well as a team of researchers, clinicians, clinic managers, nursing staff and pharmacists. In particular, the clinic was made possible with support from David Carbone, MD, PhD, director of The James Thoracic Oncology Center, Erin Bertino, MD, thoracic oncologist, and Christy Eastep, BSN, clinic manager.

All of this adds up to better care for patients with lung cancer, who are now seen by a palliative care expert during their regular oncology appointment—with no need to make a separate appointment or travel to another location. It’s one-stop care.

First, Presley or Bertino sees the patient and addresses their cancer treatment. The physician also asks some preliminary questions about how the patient is feeling and shares that information with Julia Agne, MD, who comes in next and delves deeper into the patient’s symptoms. Sometimes Presley and Agne see a patient together—especially if there is a difficult conversation about a change in the cancer. “The patient may walk out with treatments and medicine adjustments from one or both of us, and we know exactly what the other person is recommending and saying,” says Presley. “It makes it much more consistent for the patients.”

It may sound intuitive, but the OSUCCC – James is one of only a few cancer centers in the nation employing this collaborative approach to oncologic and palliative care. “Our patients are really satisfied because they can accomplish a lot in one trip to The James. They’re getting my cancer expertise, but they’re also getting symptom management expertise,” says Presley. She is grateful to Vicky Lippert for supporting the research that will ensure this model is sustainable.

“A few institutions have tried similar models and found them not to be sustainable, but it’s unclear why because they weren’t studying the model in a rigorous way,” says Presley, who will study the OSUCCC – James’ model with co-principal investigator Erin Bertino, MD. “That’s why it’s so important that Vicky Lippert is supporting research. Her seed funding will lead to more collaborations and federal grants, and already we’re helping the sarcoma and breast cancer groups to pilot this in their clinics as well.”

It’s easy to imagine that Vicky’s late husband—a businessman known for his quiet generosity to those in need—would have approved of her support. “Larry’s philosophy was that helping someone in need may not change your life, but it might change theirs. That’s something I have passed on to our children and grandchildren,” Vicky says.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Vicky and her family met with Presley, Agne, Bertino, Gafford and the other staff members running the clinic. “I am super impressed with everyone I’ve met—their genuineness and caring and how grateful they are. And I am grateful for them! My philanthropy and my heart are here at The James.” 

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