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Hoeppner Award recipient Lutane knows what it takes to get the job done

Hoosier Cancer Research Network recently honored Billye Lutane with the Terry Hoeppner Patient Advocacy Award. Lutane is a buyer for University Hospital, Riley Hospital, and the IU Simon Cancer Center. But more than that, she is a pillar within IU Health, having served for 35 years.

Like past recipients of the Hoeppner award, Lutane has demonstrated that patient advocacy is not simply something to do; it is a way to do everything. It is not so much a profession as a calling. It is a calling answered by people of all backgrounds and professions.

[Photo: HCRN Chairman Christopher A. Fausel, PharmD, presents the Terry Hoeppner Patient Advocacy award to Billye Lutane. Also pictured (from left) are Billye’s colleagues Jennifer Alvey, Trela Malone, and Bill Shaw.]

The award, named in memory of beloved Indiana University football coach Terry Hoeppner, who died from brain cancer in 2007, honors individuals who exhibit Coach Hep’s unique spirit and determination to champion their cause.

Coach Hep was known for his “never quit” attitude and resolve to face challenges head-on. His wife, Jane Hoeppner, created the award in his honor.

“I tell everyone where I work that the patients in the beds at the hospital take priority. They come here, and they want us to help them, and that is what we are supposed to do,” Lutane said. “So, when you walk in the door you have got to be on your game and pay attention; it is a very important job.”

A Core Function

Lutane fulfills a core function, shouldering the critical responsibilities related to drug procurement. “We order for the clinics. We track all of the back orders. If the manufacturers have a recall, we are responsible for pulling the items off the shelf, notifying people of the problem, and sending the recalled product back. We also take care of maintaining the blood factor refrigerator.”

For Lutane, the cause of people with cancer is front and center. “I really like helping people,” she said. “I just have a lot of energy, am pretty hyper, and can multitask. I love what I do. I think it is a very important role.”

Characteristic of the spirit which champions the cause of others, Lutane is content, faithful, and diligent outside the spotlight, reckoning the victory of others a personal reward. “I kind of like being behind the scenes. The patients do not really know from where all their stuff comes when it shows up, and that is okay. They do not have to know what measures we went through on the backside to get it there, just that they did not have any problems: they got it, they used it, and they are okay. I find that rewarding.”

A Unique Journey

Lutane’s journey is as unique as the determination that led her to it. “I was put in a foster home when I was little. When I graduated high school, I was pretty much on my own,” she recalls. “When I was in high school, my senior year, I worked half-days and went to school half-days. I took medical terminology in high school and got a job in a nursing home. I moved to full-time when I graduated high school.”

Lutane then took a position at Community Hospital East, where she worked for about four-and-a-half years as a pharmacy technician. This afforded her a strong background on which she would later rely. But first, Lutane decided it was time to venture out. “I left there to go drive a semi; I did west coast runs from California to Chicago and back. I was single, no kids or anything like that. I had not really seen much of anything and I figured it would be a good way to see some country,” she said. “So, I did that for a little while, decided it was not my thing, and wanted to come back home.” Upon her return, she was hired by IU Health and has been there ever since. She began as a pharmacy technician, was promoted to chief pharmacy technician, and later took the buyer position which she has held for more than 20 years.

A Dogged Determination

Given her years of experience, her knowledge and perspective run deep. But the defining qualities that make Lutane uniquely valuable in her role are her savviness and determination to get each patient the quality medicines they need, no matter what. That determination has been likened by those who know and love Lutane to the tenacity of a bulldog. Simply put, she works epically hard.

“You really have to be diligent and stay on top of it,” Lutane said. “There are a lot of different options to get things. Sometimes I just get lucky but you have to try and cover all the bases just to find out which avenue is going to get it first. You may have to place an order through three different avenues so that whichever drug hits that avenue first, you are going to get it. If you did not have all three and it did not hit your chosen avenue, then you still are not going to get it.”

Lutane also knows how to work with people. “We were buying for one of our hospitals and an item was on backorder,” she recalls. “I said, ‘Well I understand, but we have patients coming in, and we need those.’ So, they were like, ‘Oh, well, when you say it that way . . . ’ It depends on the information you give them.”

Lutane has been at the procurement helm during some certainly transformative times. “It is all patient-specific now. It used to be: just get it in, put it on your shelf, and anybody could use it whenever they needed it. A lot of things are not that way anymore.”

But none of the challenges she routinely encounters – from cumbersome processes, urgent yet tedious recalls, continuously revolving avenues for procurement, complicated legal requirements, evolving industry practices, or even her one-and-a-half hour commute each way to work – none of these things deters Lutane. For her 20-plus years as a buyer, they never did.

Motivation: “It is a team effort”

Lutane knew she was part of her own special team, and she did not intend to sit on the sidelines. “My husband was the person that I did it for,” she said. “When you are married, your relationship is important; it is a team effort, and your goal is to build a life with that person. I didn’t get married because I wanted someone to take care of me, I wanted to have a relationship and be strong in a relationship with the person. I also felt like, being in that relationship, I had responsibilities to help them as well and not put it all on their shoulders. It is a team effort. My husband was really the reason why I kept pursuing different positions and trying to increase and climb up.”

Lutane and her husband, Jeff, were married 33 years. “He understood that my job was important,” she reflects. “He was really excited about this award because he was still here when I was told about it. I do not think he ever saw it, because when it was brought to the house he was already on hospice. He was very proud of me.”

As for the future, Lutane plans to retire in two years. “My husband had only been retired for two years when he passed, and when he first told me this he was not sick, but he told me, ‘I cannot wait until you retire and know what it feels like to not have to get up every day and go to work.’ We were excited for me to retire in two years, and then we were going to do some things,” she said. “But after he got sick, he told me to stick with the plan. You never know what is going to happen; life is too short. He said, ‘Do it,’ and I am going to stick to it.”

Lutane looks forward to her coming reprieve. “I am kind of hoping by then I will be a little chilled out,” she said. “I will have the energy, but I won’t have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off. I might struggle for the next couple of years because I am gone from the house a long time, but I said once I retire I will have time to mow the grass and take care of things.”

As the most recent recipient of the Terry Hoeppner Patient Advocacy Award, Lutane embodies every bit of the admirable spirit of Coach Hep. She keeps her eye on the prize, and does not shy away from a challenge. Patients may never know what it takes for Lutane to secure the medications they need, but knowing they received the care they needed, when they needed it most, is the greatest reward Lutane could wish for.

About Hoosier Cancer Research Network:

Hoosier Cancer Research Network (formerly known as Hoosier Oncology Group) conducts innovative cancer research in partnership with academic and community physicians and scientists across the United States and internationally. The organization provides comprehensive clinical trial management and support, from conception through publication. Created in 1984 as a program of the Walther Cancer Institute, Hoosier Cancer Research Network became an independent nonprofit clinical research organization in 2007. Since its founding, Hoosier Cancer Research Network has initiated more than 160 trials in a variety of cancer types and supportive care, resulting in more than 350 publications. More than 5,000 subjects have participated in Hoosier Cancer Research Network clinical trials.