With healthcare costs continually on the rise, hospitals across the nation are looking to preventative medicine as the next step forward in healthcare.
By Frank Turner
Locally, West River Health Services (WRHS) has been following suit by offering both exercise classes and, most recently, a new Tobacco Treatment Program through the North Dakota Department of Health and state program, NDQuits.
The goal of the tobacco treatment program is to help reduce the health complications associated with tobacco use by counseling people to quit smoking and chewing.
“The purpose is to try and help prevent the development of diseases that stem from tobacco use,” said WRHS RN, Community Health and Wellness Coordinator Patty Ness. “Tobacco is a difficult habit to quit. Nicotine reaches your brain so quickly, which makes it really addictive habit. It can take several tries to break the habit.”
Tobacco use is not only addictive, but also deadly. According to research from the NDQuits program, “Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death and disease in North Dakota and the United States, causing more deaths annually than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides, combined.”
Smoking is pervasive throughout the state and Southwest North Dakota isn’t an exception. WRHS and other hospitals around the state are looking to the North Dakota Department of Health’s NDQuits grant program for help. With funding from the program, hospitals and clinics across the state can now apply for grants that provide resources to certify local health providers as tobacco treatment specialists.
“Through the grant program we have been able to send people for training to become tobacco treatment specialists,” said Ness. “Teresa Nielsen, the physician’s assistant from the New England clinic, became a tobacco treatment specialist in April, so now she is offering face-to face counseling with patients.”
In addition to training grants, the NDQuits program allows health providers to provide free nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches and gum to prescribed patients.
“We can refer people to the NDQuits service, and that is a free program for North Dakotans trying to quit,” said Ness. “What we have now through this grant program is, if you come [into West River Health Services] and see your doctor and you say that you want to quit, if they fill out a referral for you, you’re a North Dakota Resident, and you have a quit date set within 30 days, your health provider can provide you, right away, two weeks of replacement therapy for free until your supply from the NDQuits service comes.”
Right now, WRHS offers face-to-face counseling in their New England and Scranton clinics while their other clinics offer replacement therapies for those wishing to quit.
“Our big goal is to have tobacco counseling available in every [West River Health Services] clinic,” said Ness. “With this next grant cycle, we will be able to send a [health provider] from both the Hettinger clinic and the Mott clinic so we will be able to offer the counseling service in the late fall.”
So far the programs and treatments offered at WRHS have been both popular and effective. Even though quitting is a challenge, there are life-long smokers who have managed to quit. WHRS Respiratory Therapist and Tobacco Treatment Specialist Lisa Briggs said that she has helped many life long smokers quit their habit.
“If you can just keep one person from smoking, it’s a success and a win,” said Briggs. “I took care of a lady who was a 60 year plus smoker. She had smoked her entire life since she was 10 years old and she just celebrated her first year of quitting.”
Ness said that it’s important for everyone involved in the quitting process to stay positive and to continually work toward a healthy goal.
“I think that making small changes can help prevent a lot of large problems later,” said Ness. “If you try over night to completely change your lifestyle, you are probably going to fail, but if you can make one or two small changes, they can greatly impact your health.”
Ness encouraged anyone thinking about quitting tobacco to contact their local health clinic and inquire about available programs.
“It’s at least a step in the right direction,” said Ness. “Oftentimes, it takes multiple tries to quit, so we would like to encourage people. If you tried the program but you started the habit back up again, don’t feel defeated. Try again.”