Kaiser Permanente is helping members thrive by encouraging them to quit tobacco.
Ayi Carter-Shaw has smoked cigarettes since she was 14. For years, the 49-year-old had wanted to quit “someday,” and she had tried eight or nine times, even using hypnosis.
That someday arrived earlier this year when she received a letter from her Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento physician, saying that she had early stages of emphysema — and it was imperative for her health to stop smoking.
And that’s exactly what this former pack and a half a day smoker did Jan. 25.
“I want to live,” she said. “And I want to live a quality life, not on oxygen or going to a pulmonary rehab.”
Carter-Shaw said her life is better smoke free. “I feel better — I can breathe better, I look better, I have more energy. I’m absolutely happy that I quit.”
More than mammograms, immunizations, or any other intervention, giving up tobacco can have the greatest impact on members’ health.
That’s the main reason for the Northern California Region’s 50,000 Quitters Campaign, which aims to get 50,000 members to stop using tobacco in two years. Smoking causes a third of cancer-related deaths and worsens chronic health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes.
“Two out of three smokers die prematurely. Quitting can add healthy years back,” said Ali Goldstein, MPH, lead consultant with Regional Health Education. “In fact, helping patients quit smoking is just as imperative, in terms of improving health outcomes, as treating hypertension or diabetes.”
The current 50,000 Quitters Campaign is the latest effort in the battle to help Northern California patients quit smoking. Though the organization has had a comprehensive smoking cessation program since the early 2000’s, the smoker population has remained steady for a number of years — until this campaign.
As of February — the latest figures available — nearly 27,000 of the region’s 200,000-plus smoking members have quit since the campaign began in November 2013. In the first year of the campaign, there were typically 2,000 quitters monthly. In 2015, that number is rising, putting the region within range of meeting the campaign’s goal by the end of this year.
If the campaign succeeds, it would reduce the region’s smoker population significantly and increase those former smokers’ life spans by as much as 15 years each.
KP’s cessation program includes screening for tobacco use, advising patients to quit, and connecting them with evidence-based treatment plans that include behavioral strategies and medications. KP provides counseling at no cost to members and, for many, the medications are free as well.
Strong medical center leadership support, engaged staff members at all levels and across disciplines, and good care coordination among departments have been key factors in the campaign’s success — 27 percent more people have quit since the campaign started, Goldstein said.
Opportunities exist to do more, especially when patients are hospitalized with acute conditions or admitted for surgery, said Renee Fogelberg, MD, clinical lead for Tobacco Cessation.
“During this tumultuous time, there’s self-reflection, and often members will do what it takes to quit,” Dr. Fogelberg said.
She added that members are grateful when clinicians help them quit.
Carter-Shaw said she sure is. She said KP’s support was crucial in her success, and she was pleasantly surprised that she didn’t have to pay for anything, especially the medications.
“That was beautiful,” Carter-Shaw said. “I felt like Kaiser invested in me.”