Donna Karan Changes the Design of Cancer Care

CURE, Fall 2009, Volume 8, Issue 3

Fashion designer Donna Karan wants to start a new trend with her integrative therapy program.

Imagine soothing scents, calming sounds, and the relaxation achieved through yoga. While this peaceful environment might sound like something you find at a spa, at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, it’s a part of patients’ cancer care.

Following her late husband’s treatment for cancer, fashion designer Donna Karan decided something was missing from traditional cancer care. Through her Urban Zen Foundation (www.urbanzen.org), Karan launched a pilot program at Beth Israel in April that incorporates integrative therapies into cancer care. The program seeks to revolutionize patient care and also address the needs of the patients’ loved ones and the medical staff.

As part of the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program, yoga therapists are available to patients, caregivers, and the staff. Nurses receive holistic care training, including breath work, aromatherapy, and guided imagery, and a patient navigator is available to guide the patient and family through the entire cancer care process. “It’s really stepping out of just doing things to the patient and stepping into the concept of doing things for the patient,” says Louis Harrison, MD, clinical director of the Continuum Cancer Centers of New York, which includes Beth Israel.

In addition to the changes in patient care, there is an ongoing clinical trial headed by Benjamin Kligler, MD, research director of integrative medicine at Beth Israel, to measure whether the program lessens patients’ anxiety and depression. He also hopes to show that the costs of care are lower when the program is utilized. “That’s the big prize—if we were able to show that. Because then you might be able to make an argument that other hospitals should try this intervention,” Kligler says.