Introducing the Iowa Oncology Navigation Network (IONN)

By Courtney Vassiliades, Lori Pietig and Kelly Angell

When a newly diagnosed cancer patient needed additional support, Courtney Vassiliades jumped into action.

Courtney is a Social Worker Specialist at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the Care Coordination Division. Part of her job is ensuring a patient’s care is transferred well to their local provider.

This patient planned to move to Iowa but lived out of state at the time. Because the patient’s family support was in western Iowa, far from Iowa City, Courtney needed to establish the patient with an oncologist local to the family.

Finding the right person at a local cancer center who can navigate logistical needs for the patient requires some creativity. In most cases, to find the right person, Courtney makes cold calls to the new hospital or cancer center where the patient is transferring to. Courtney says she might go through 3-4 people before being connected to the person who handles oncology patient navigation, and that can sometimes take days or weeks.

For the patient in western Iowa, Courtney eventually found Lori Pietig, Director of Cancer Services at St. Anthony Regional Hospital. Lori and Courtney then worked together to ensure all the correct insurance and logistical needs were established, and critical care could continue.

“A lot of time is spent just finding the right person to help facilitate the patients’ needs.”

Lori commented, “What I have found in transfers of care is a lot of time is spent just finding the right person to help facilitate the patients’ needs. Courtney and I were able to connect and continue the process to transition care from each of our respective ends.”

This is just one example of how challenging it can be for patients and providers to quickly transfer care and find support local to patients.

A New Way to Connect

Over the past year, the Iowa Cancer Consortium’s Rural Cancer Workgroup worked on a project to better connect Iowa’s professionals who provide resources, emotional support, and patient advocacy to cancer patients, survivors, and their caregivers. The professionals in this role may have the title of Navigator, Patient Advocate, Community Health Worker, Social Worker, or Care Coordinator to name a few, but it can be anyone who guides patients through their screenings or cancer treatment journey.

The Iowa Cancer Consortium is excited to formally launch the outcome of this project, named the Iowa Oncology Navigation Network (IONN).

The purpose of IONN is to better connect professionals who work in or with oncology patient navigation and to allow them to relate peer-to-peer, share resources, ask questions in a forum, and provide future opportunities for education, training, and connections.

“IONN allows us to get to know the people and providers who handle patient support so we can connect easier.”

Courtney said, “IONN is going to help tremendously to transfer patient care more directly. IONN allows us to get to know the people and providers who handle patient support so we can connect easier. It just makes everything easier knowing who to call.”

For now, the network exists as a website within the Iowa Cancer Consortium membership portal. Only Iowa Cancer Consortium members who have been designated with access to IONN can see it on the website. Access to the network is meant for Iowans currently employed in a navigation-like role, including Community Health Workers, those who work directly with patients to address social and emotional needs, or those who work to coordinate care for patients and caregivers.

IONN was officially launched with an original group of 47 individuals on March 22, 2023. If you or someone you know should be included in the Iowa Oncology Navigation Network, please email the Consortium staff at [email protected].


Courtney Vassiliades, LMSW, OSW-C
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics

Lori Pietig, MHA, CT, RT, (R)
St. Anthony Regional Hospital

Kelly Angell
Iowa Cancer Consortium