The calm in a storm: Jefferson Healthcare oncology nurse always by his patients’ sides

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Rick Fourmont is the guy you want by your side when you get bad news.

In the oncology and infusion clinic at Jefferson Healthcare, he is most often seen with a chair pulled up at the side of a patient.

“He’s either talking about their treatment, or he’s just asking them about their life and sharing his own stories with them,” said Jeinell Harper, the infusion director at Jefferson Healthcare.

Fourmont has worked in the oncology department since its beginnings in the early 2000s.

But his first foray into the world of health are was far from any patient contact: He started out working in the accounting department at Jefferson Healthcare in the early 1980s.

A single parent raising two boys who were 4 and 6 years old at the time, he decided to go to Peninsula College and get his nursing degree.

“I had always been interested in health care,” he said. “Then I got this opportunity to retrain.”

While training to be a nurse, Fourmont jumped around to several different jobs at the hospital, including working with physical therapy patients. The experience helped him realize patient care was his passion.

“I didn’t want to go back to anything else,” he said.

Fourmont began working as a nurse in the ACU (Acute Care Unit). But in the early 2000s, Jefferson Healthcare started to see the need for outpatient treatment.

“We knew outpatient therapy was the way of the future,” Harper said. “People do better if they can stay home, and Jefferson Healthcare recognized that early.”

By 2006, Harper started as the director of an outpatient unit.

“It was just me and a little calendar on the wall and a few patients every day of the week,” she said.

Soon, the center started to see oncology patients, too. In 2009, the Hood Canal Bridge was closed for maintenance, and it was difficult for Peninsula patients to see their specialists in Poulsbo and Seattle.

“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have most of the newer drugs that help control nausea,” Fourmont said. “There was one patient who would go to Seattle for chemotherapy. She would drive herself and hope to get home before she threw up.”

When she learned the hospital down the street from her offered oncology care, it was a game-changer, he said.

Because of the demographics and ages of many Jefferson County residents, Jefferson Healthcare realized that oncology, cardiology and orthopedics would be important services to have. The hospital administration paid for three nurses, including Fourmont and Harper, to become certified in oncology in 2011.

“When you’re sick and you have to go to Seattle, it’s an unbelievable burden,” he said. “We became oncology-certified nurses to gain the credentials to be able to serve our neighbors.”

Fourmont worked closely with Harper and oncologist Ann Murphy to make the center what it is today: a team of oncology physicians, oncology-certified nurses, and technicians providing comprehensive cancer care, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, blood products and other treatments.

Patients in the oncology department have private rooms, many of which have stunning views of the bay or the mountains.

“Providers, nutritionists, pharmacists — they are all available to me,” Fourmont said. “I always tell my patients, ‘I don’t know all the answers, but I have their library of knowledge.’”

It’s the teamwork between people like Fourmont and the other nurses and doctors that made the clinic successful.

“There’s charisma that works,” said Emmy Lou Stein, a nurse who worked beside Fourmont at the hospital. “As the department developed, there was this milieu of people saying, ‘This is how we do it; this is the example we are going to follow.’ It created this wonderful, helpful, compassionate group of people. Rick is one of them. You don’t say no, you always jump in and tackle the situation as best you can.”

Working with cancer patients takes a special kind of care.

“The disease itself is transformational to patients,” Harper said. “They’re scared. It affects every aspect of their lives, from their family, to their work, to their self-image. And it requires a tremendous amount of trust in the person who’s delivering the care.”

Every day, Fourmont greets his patients and tells them the day’s exact routine in a very calm way, according to Stein.

“People pick up on the confidence he exudes,” she said.

One thing Fourmont enjoys about his work is the collaboration within the hospital.

“We have what we call a ‘cancer conference,’” he said. “We all come together — the oncologists, the surgeons, radiologists, pathologists and nurses — to discuss patients, so they can get the best treatment.”

But most of all, Fourmont enjoys working with the patients, getting to know them and being with them through every stage of their illness — even when things get hard.

“It helps you focus on what’s important in life,” he said. “These patients go through so much.”

Working in an oncology unit, Fourmont witnesses celebrations of those battling cancer successfully, but also the strength of those who are at the end of a long, and maybe even futile, struggle.

A few weeks ago, he and his colleagues celebrated the life of a patient who passed away.

“Near the end, she gave the staff a gift card to the Banana Leaf restaurant,” he said. “We toasted her with our iced teas.”

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Debbie Jahnke

I am one of the many who benefit from and appreciate Rick Fourmont and all the other amazing oncology staff in our hospital. We are so fortunate in our community to have this resource close to home so we get to have our treatments with kind, generous professionals who may also be our neighbors and friends.

Monday, June 1