Karina Laconcha, a director at the Memorial Cancer Institute Patient Access Center, says she doesn't need a lot of fanfare for her work with cancer patients.
The opportunity to serve patients in need is its own reward.
As the director of the Patient Access Center, Karina leads a team responsible for answering all calls for the cancer institute. She and her team also field calls for Pediatric Neurology, Pediatric Endocrinology and Adult Neuroscience.
"We are the voice for Memorial," says Karina. "We answer all the calls, and it's not just for making appointments, it's for everything."
In a typical day, Karina and her team might schedule oncology and radiation appointments, pass on information to patients who are experiencing symptoms, triage calls, schedule regular follow-up appointments or coordinate psychological care for patients in recovery or currently undergoing cancer treatment.
There's a lot of responsibility being the first point of contact for cancer patients. After all, patients form their first impression of Memorial through early phone interactions with Patient Access Center staff.
“I’ve seen patients go from zero to 180 the second they find out they have cancer," says Karina. “New patients will have as many as five or six appointments in a week – all while adapting to the life-changing diagnosis. It’s a lot.”
While there are challenges involved in screening and triaging patient calls – and in dealing with the complicated emotions of cancer patients – Karina says serving as a voice for patients is very fulfilling.
“People will call the Patient Access Center to air their frustration over treatment options after, say, trying three or four clinical trials. These patients want to be heard, so we listen compassionately to them and then try to answer their questions and connect them with the resources they need.”
The Patient Access Center team works closely with patient navigators and social workers, who have developed decision trees and various other scenarios that help the team members efficiently process cases. "They lead me," Karina says of her coworkers, noting that the Patient Access Center is very team oriented.
In her free time, Karina does community work and attends a local church, which has always been important to her family. Karina was previously involved with the South Florida Healthcare Executive Forum and the Women's Healthcare Executive Networking committee, but now spends her volunteer time serving on the Memorial Pink Angels Committee, which raises money for breast cancer patient programs and services.
The committee supplies wigs, support services and blankets for chemo suites. They've also helped pay for nutrition classes and a yoga room to provide complimentary wellness care for breast cancer patients.
Although she came to Memorial from a job in hospitality, Karina is no stranger to the medical profession.
In her native Venezuela, her mother worked as a nurse and her father was a physician. Karina, who also holds an MBA degree specializing in healthcare, says she experiences much joy and meaning from her role at the center. She likes a quiet work atmosphere and doesn't need a lot of recognition for her hard work.
"I'd rather be behind the scenes helping out," she says.