North Carolina Prevention Partners recognizes FirstHealth hospitals

Special to the Chronicle

North Carolina Prevention Partners has recognized FirstHealth of the Carolinas for providing the highest standard of excellence for tobacco-cessation programs offered to patients.

The three FirstHealth hospitals – Moore Regional in Pinehurst, Richmond Memorial in Rockingham and Montgomery Memorial in Troy – were acknowledged as Gold Heart Standard Hospitals. FirstHealth is the first health system in the state to receive the recognition.

NC Prevention Partners works with corporate leaders and staffs in North Carolina hospitals to enhance tobacco-cessation efforts and resources available to all hospital employees and patients. The FirstHealth hospitals were recognized for identifying tobacco-using patients as a required vital sign, providing a team approach to cessation counseling, providing and promoting evidence-based treatments, and evaluating the quit-tobacco system. These are among several components recommended by NC Prevention Partners for comprehensive quit-tobacco systems for patients.

FirstHealth’s inpatient tobacco-cessation program is provided by Community Health Services. Health Programs Manager Linda Harte supervises the team of specially trained health educators who work with the program. She says the inpatient program, which began as a pilot at Moore Regional during the summer of 2009, was a logical expansion of the established outpatient FirstQuit program that was started more than 10 years ago.

FirstQuit receives daily referrals from FirstHealth Home Care Services for patients who are discharged from the tobacco-free environment of a hospital only to find themselves challenged to continue their tobacco-free status at home.

A couple of years ago, that situation prompted a discussion about tobacco-cessation services that could be offered to inpatients and, Harte says, “how we could identify tobacco-using patients sooner” and “support them better while in the hospital.”

Eventually, the discussion turned toward giving hospitalized patients the motivation and confidence to remain tobacco free once they got home and providing options that would help them achieve their tobacco-free goal.

A committee comprised of staff representatives from various FirstHealth departments worked for about six months to develop the inpatient plan. The process they came up with begins as the patient is being admitted to the hospital and is identified by nursing staff as being a tobacco-user. It continues when the physician in charge of the patient’s hospitalization orders a consultation with a Community Health Services tobacco treatment specialist (TTS).

During the bedside consultation, the patient is told that his/her doctor requested the session and asked for permission to continue. During the 20- to 30-minute session, the TTS collects a tobacco-use history and determines if the patient is currently on a nicotine replacement therapy patch to help deal with cravings.

The TTS also determines the patient’s readiness to quit and begins a conversation about the quitting process before ending the consultation with an offer of information about the FirstQuit outpatient program and a referral to the NC Quitline. Patients are left with a “busy bag” of support materials that also helps them deal with cravings.

“We commend all three FirstHealth hospitals for their hard work in becoming some of the first North Carolina hospitals to adopt a quit-tobacco system for patients and now earning the Gold Heart.” says Melva Fager Okun, senior manager, NC Prevention Partners. “They are doing a great job in supporting their patients in quitting the use of tobacco. I applaud their great effort.”

The work of NC Prevention Partners in North Carolina hospitals is funded by The Duke Endowment and is in partnership with the NC Hospital Association.

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