Program offers free nicotine replacement
As of April 1, all smokers being admitted to Health Sciences North will be offered nicotine replacement therapy.
The policy change is being made after a successful nicotine replacement therapy pilot program in the hospital's mental health and vascular surgery units.
There's still a designated smoking area for patients admitted to the hospital, although nobody else, including staff and visitors, is allowed to smoke on Health Sciences North's campus.
However, very often, patients are so sick that they're unable to leave their rooms to smoke, said Claire Gignac, a tobacco control cessation nurse with the hospital, who has been involved in developing the policy.
“Some patients have too much equipment attached to them, and they're unable to go outside,” she said.
The nicotine replacement therapy, which will be offered free of cost, will begin right away, so that “we can start handling any of their cravings before it gets unmanageable,” Gignac said.
The idea behind the move is that if a patient is able to control their nicotine cravings, their thought process will be more focused on their care than their need for a cigarette, she said.
Smoking cigarettes can also lead to health issues like higher blood pressure and slower healing, which is problematic for hospitalized patients, Gignac said.
Gignac, who recently received her Master Tobacco Treatment Specialist certificate through the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has trained 20 hospital employees as nicotine replacement therapy “champions.”
“So if a patient is having difficulty handling the withdrawals from nicotine, if the nurse has any concerns, they are able to go to a dedicated nicotine replacement champion,” she said.
“Through them, they are able to get extra information, and they'll hopefully be able to resolve any of the issues that are arising.”
If the champions aren't able to resolve the situation, Gignac herself will step in. Nicotine affects everyone's body differently, so the way nicotine replacement therapy is administered should also vary, she said.
For example, a patient may need to use a fast-acting form of the treatment, such as gum, while a slower-acting version, such as the patch, kicks in.
Very often, beginning nicotine replacement therapy in hospital is a patient's ticket to leading a smoke-free life, Gignac said.
“Any patient who comes in here who is on nicotine replacement, they have a chance to see how it works,” she said.
“A lot of people come in with a preconceived idea of what nicotine replacement is like, and a lot of people think 'It won't work on me. I smoke too much.' What we do is we give them the opportunity to try it out.”
Once they're discharged, patients are referred to counselling offered through the Sudbury and District Health Unit or the Smokers Helpline, a hotline which offers over-the-phone counselling for smokers trying to kick the habit.
The nicotine replacement therapy program aids the hospital's efforts to keep most smoking off its campus, Gignac said. The eventual goal is to ban all smoking on Health Sciences North's campus, but she said she's not sure when this will happen.
Gignac said the hospital also tries to help its employees stop smoking, as they're offered nicotine replacement therapy and counselling through their benefits.
Health Sciences North's smoking cessation efforts are especially important, as Greater Sudbury has a 24-per-cent smoking rate, as opposed to the provincial average of about 19 per cent, Gignac said.
Gignac said she decided to go for her Master Tobacco Treatment Specialist certificate because she's been doing professional upgrading in the area for years, but wanted to go further.
A Master Tobacco Treatment Specialist is a professional who possesses the skills, knowledge and training to provide effective, evidence-based interventions for tobacco dependence across a range of intensities.
They may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, community health centres, medical and dental practices, schools, social service agencies, public health organizations, drug abuse treatment programs and mental health centres.
Gignac took some online courses with the University of Massachusetts Medical School and wrote and defended a paper, which she describes as “the hardest thing I've had to do in a long time.”
However, because she'd already completed so many courses through the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, Gignac had already met many of the requirements of the certification.
She said she was really excited three weeks ago when she found out she'd received the certification.
“I think the last time I was that happy was when I found out I was pregnant,” Gignac, one of three Canadians to recently receive the certification, said. “It's N0. 2 on my list of the best opportunities and the best times of my life.”
She's keen on using her knowledge to further smoking cessation at Health Sciences North, where she sits on the institution's Smoking Policy Improvement Committee.
“I'll now be able to bring to the corporation as a whole my ideas as to how to go about to make our policies work better.”