Voice of NCI: Center wins $55 million CIS contract

Hutchinson Center contact center will become sole national operator of Cancer Information Service, add 60 new jobs
Amber Garnett, Nancy Zbaren, and Dawn Sittauer
From left: Amber Garnett, information specialist, with Nancy Zbaren, CIS project director and Dawn Sittauer, contact center manager. Photo by Dean Forbes

The Hutchinson Center has won a $55.4 million, multiple-year contract from the National Cancer Institute to become the nation’s sole operator of NCI’s Cancer Information Service Contact Center.

Currently one of three contact centers nationwide, the Hutchinson Center office will nearly triple its workforce by adding 60 new jobs. The expanded office will begin operation and the other two CIS offices will close on March 15. The office will remain on the second floor of the Yale Building.

“This is terrific news,” said Dr. Lee Hartwell, president and director. “The Center has a 28-year track record of success hosting a regional Cancer Information Service office. It’s a testament to the high level of service and professionalism of the staff that they have been selected to be the one contact center for the entire country.”

The CIS is a free telephone and Internet resource for personalized information about cancer prevention, screening and treatment. The NCI established it in 1975 as a part of its cancer prevention and control efforts; the Center has operated a CIS contact center since 1981.

Over the years, NCI has cut the number of regional contact centers from 26 to three. In addition to Seattle, current contact centers are located at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

NCI has also eliminated its 15 CIS partnership programs, which extended the NCI’s reach into rural and ethnic populations. The Seattle office managed one of the programs. All are scheduled to close Jan. 14.

Seattle office’s strong record

More than a year ago, NCI officials announced plans to consolidate CIS operations in one location. The Hutchinson Center office entered the bidding process in February with a proposal that addressed the NCI’s requirements for the sole center to demonstrate creativity, innovation and flexibility—words, along with “high-performing,” that exactly describe the Seattle office, said Dawn Sittauer, CIS contact center manager.

The office consistently has “been able to meet or exceed the performance standards” set by the NCI, said Nancy Zbaren, CIS project director. This put the office in an excellent position to win the new contract.

The current three-office CIS network handles up to about 470 inquiries per day, including a growing number of online-chat inquiries and e-mails. Calls come from throughout the United States and its territories; about 12 percent of the chat and e-mail inquiries come from outside the country, Sittauer said.

The Seattle office currently handles about 100-150 calls, 45-50 chats and 15-20 e-mail messages per day.

60 new jobs

To handle the increased demand of nationwide inquiries beginning in March, operating hours for the office will expand to 5 a.m.-5 p.m. Pacific time weekdays for phone calls and 5 a.m.-8 p.m. for the increasingly popular online-chat.

“We love the service we provide to the public and we’re happy to have the opportunity to continue to provide it on a broader scale,” Zbaren said.

To do so, Zbaren and Sittauer will hire 58 additional information specialists; they are looking for the following:

• Individuals with a four-year degree (social work or any field)
• People who like helping people
• At least seven full-time staff members who are bilingual in English and Spanish.

The office will also add two additional oncology certified nurses to provide training and assistance for the information specialists.

The good news helps offset the loss of the CIS partnership program managed by the Seattle office, which will close Jan. 14. The partnership program extended the NCI’s reach into rural and ethnic populations.

“When the public calls with any question or concerns, we are able to provide evidence-based information,” Zbaren said. “We answer questions about cancer from patients, family members, physicians and the general public seeking clinical trials, treatment options, any question you an imagine. Our job is to provide information, not advice, in a compassionate and tailored manner.”

“We are the voice of the National Cancer Institute,” Sittauer said.

For more information

Access the CIS at 1-800-4-CANCER or www.cancer.gov/help.

For information about jobs at CIS, contact Nerreda Hewitt in the Human Resources Department at nhewitt@fhcrc.org.

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