BENNINGTON -- The breast care program at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has once again received national accreditation, demonstrating that it meets the gold standard of care for all forms of breast disease. Officials from the American College of Surgeons National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers recertified the hospital’s program in October.

"We are pleased to have achieved NAPBC accreditation for a second time," said Dr. Charlene Ives, the director of SVMC’s breast care program and a medical oncologist at SVMC. "Accreditation in programs such as this is voluntary, but it’s our way of demonstrating the high quality care we strive for. Women can be assured that our program offers the best in comprehensive care for any type of breast disease." SVMC’s breast care program is the only NAPBC accredited breast care program in Vermont, the Berkshires, or the Albany area. The NAPBC awards accreditation only to those centers that voluntarily commit to the highest quality breast care. The accreditation process involves a rigorous evaluation and review of the program’s performance, including an onsite visit by NAPBC evaluators. The center must demonstrate compliance with standards established by the NAPBC, including skill in the areas of center leadership, clinical management, research, community outreach, professional education, and quality improvement.

In September, an official from the NAPBC visited SV to evaluate the program. "The official, a physician, thoroughly evaluated our program," explained Wendy Petitt, practice manager for the hospital’s cancer center. "He reviewed medical records, treatment plans, asked questions, interviewed physicians, and inspected facilities. He also spent extensive time with Dr. Elizabeth Warner, breast surgeon, Dr. Ives, and Breast Health Navigator.

Pettit explained that unlike many smaller breast care programs, SVMC was among the first to provide a Breast Health Navigator. The navigator is staff member who helps guide patients through the process of diagnosis and treatment, often literally by the hand.

"When a person is facing breast disease, even if it is not cancer, often they feel overwhelmed and frightened," Pettit said. "The Breast Navigator is there with the patient from the very beginning to help, not only with navigating the medical issues and options, but the patient’s whole experience."

If the breast disease is cancer, patients at Southwestern Vermont Regional Cancer Center have access to an array of cancer treatment experts, all doctors from Dartmouth-Hitchcock. In addition to medical oncologists Dr. Ives and Dr. Orion Howard (the medical director of the cancer program), and radiation oncologist, Dr. Matthew Vernon, the center also has a dedicated breast surgeon, Dr. Elizabeth Warner, and an accomplished plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Marthe Ann Gabey, as well as state of the art diagnostic imaging services (including digital mammography, ultrasound, MRI, and image-guided biopsy).

Through SVMC’s physicians, patients have access to clinical trials and consultation at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 41 institutions in the U.S. that are designed as Comprehensive Cancer Centers by the National Cancer Institute. SVMC’s physicians can quickly get additional opinions from world-renowned experts at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and present SVMC’s more complex cases at subspecialty tumor boards.

"We really offer a complete plan of care for women with breast disease," Pettit said. "We even include complementary therapies, such as massage, reiki, yoga, and art therapy because we understand how important these services are for women."

The accreditation is good for three years; however, Petitt says that the health system is constantly improving its care and extending what is has learned into other areas. "We’re incorporating what we’ve learned about breast care from the NAPBC accreditation and extending it to other diseases. Our patients will find that although this accreditation is for breast cancer, it shows our commitment to outstanding care throughout SVMC."