Washington - U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has successfully secured initial funding for a program he established to guide patients through the health care system - the first national program of its kind. The Patient Navigator, Outreach and Chronic Disease Prevention Program, which was signed into law in 2005, helps patients, including those in underserved communities, to overcome the barriers they face in getting early screening and appropriate follow-up treatment. Sen. Menendez was able to secure $2.9 million in funding for this competitive grant program in the Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations bill that passed the Congress this week. Now, the bill will go to President Bush.

"I am very proud of this program because it involves reaching out, on a local level, to people in our communities, getting them preventive care, helping them navigate the complicated maze of our health care system and ultimately making sure they are healthy, " said Menendez. "This is a new approach to delivering health care - one that is prevention-based instead of disease-based. We get people in to see a provider before they're sick, so that problems can be detected early, treatment is cheaper and outcomes are better for patients."

Success of program:

The Patient Navigator program is based on successful models, including one developed by Dr. Harold Freeman in Harlem and one by Dr. Elmer Huerta at the Washington Hospital Center in DC. In 2003, Sen. Menendez, who then served in the House, secured $100,000 for a Patient Navigator Pilot program at New Jersey's Jersey City Family Health Center. Within the first year, the program facilitated the screenings of over 842 patients for cancer, and 140 with abnormal findings were enrolled in the Patient Navigator Program for follow-up.

Background on program:

Patient navigators are individuals who know the local community, reach out to get people in to see a health care provider, and help patients navigate through the complicated health care system. They help with referrals and follow-up treatment and direct patients to programs and clinical trials that are available to help them get the treatment and care they need to fight cancer and other chronic diseases.

The patient navigator guides patients to health coverage that they may be eligible to receive. They also conduct ongoing outreach to health disparity communities to encourage people to get screenings and early detection services.