by Dr. Karen Wonders

Wow – what a year!

I suppose after the craziness of 2020, most would say that the only way to go from there was up…but in reality, 2020 wasn’t all that bad for Maple Tree. It brought us a new way of serving our patients (virtually!), it brought us a new partnership that resulted in expanding our footprint to the west coast, and it brought us some amazing new team members. If I’m being honest, I went into 2021 thinking that 2020 would be hard to beat!

We began 2021 with a two-day strategic planning session. Personally, I am a huge goal setter, so this was right up my alley. However, I’ve never done it as part of a group before. I didn’t know what to expect going in, and I’ll admit I was a little nervous. I was asked to come to the table with one or two “wildly important” goals for the year. I came with 11 (which I had paired down from 47!!). Somehow, after two days, we ended up with 6 goals that our organization would work on together. TOGETHER – as a team. Everyone had a role to play. And together – everyone delivered! 

One of our team goals was to maximize our current sites. We wanted to be sure that we were serving as many patients as each contract would allow for. At the start of 2021, we had some sites that weren’t really doing very well. Communication was slow, referrals were not happening, and in some cases, physicians didn’t even know we were there to serve their patients! It was so amazing to see our clinical operations directors (Rob and Matt) spring into action. This goal lit a fire under them, and suddenly, like never before, they were meeting with nurse navigators, tumor boards, survivorship coordinators, and doctors to tell them about the benefits of exercise during cancer treatment. As a result, we have been able to serve nearly 80% more patients this year, as compared to the year before – at the same sites! Incredible!!

Another goal of ours was growth into new sites. This one really excites me – I absolutely love walking into a new hospital knowing I have a solution to a problem that every cancer center faces. I know, for a fact, that exercise improves patient outcomes. I have directly measured the decreases in symptom severity, health care costs, fatigue, and pain. I have collected data on tens of thousands of patients over the last 20 years that tells me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Exercise is Medicine! Forging these relationships brings me more joy than I can ever describe. Our goal going into 2021 was to cultivate 7 new hospital partnerships. I am so excited to share that to date, we have 11 new partners – nearly double our original goal! 

With all the patients we see each year, we knew that we needed a better way to maintain all of the data we were collecting. This led to another, huge endeavor – to create a cloud-based data management and storage system. Our clinical operations director, Rob Wise, led this charge and worked with a team to create a unique, HIPPA-compliant database that can directly communicate with oncology teams, store data, and allow patients a dashboard where they can access their information to track progress and see their homework workouts each week. It even connects to a wearable device, allowing their trainers to track their activity levels and check in if needed! 

This database also gives us limitless opportunities for research – another goal of ours this year. In my opinion, the research world has already proven, beyond a shadow of doubt, that exercise helps cancer patients. So, the goal of the research I want Maple Tree to produce is to answer questions that insurance providers have – in order to convince them to fund this worthy, life-enhancing service for cancer patients. I know that this is the ONLY thing standing in the way of where we are now – with a couple thousand cancer patients having access to exercise oncology programs  – to where we should be, with a couple million cancer patients having access to exercise oncology programs. With this as our singular focus, we have been able to collect some very important data. These data will be published in some very prominent journals in early 2022, and I have no doubt that eventually, we will accomplish this vital goal!

In closing, 2021 was so good to us. I believe that we are building the team, the systems, and the infrastructure necessary to make a dramatic impact on the way cancer is cared for…not just here in America, but for the rest of the world. Thank you to everyone who has supported us along the way, we could not have gotten this far without you!! And stay tuned, because I feel like 2022 is going to knock our socks off!! I can’t wait!

Happy New Year!