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Improving access to services for patients with COPD


He walks 50 feet, takes a break. He walks 50 feet, takes another break.

Smoking is the number one cause of COPD, which leads to shortness of breath. There is no cure.

“I don’t want to go out anymore,” said Jim Grismer, a man living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a respiratory disorder characterized by lung hyperinflation, airway obstruction and frequent hospitalizations due to exacerbations or ‘lung attacks’.

“Exacerbations of COPD are high on the hospital readmission list. The average COPD patient experiences approximately two exacerbations per year which result in hospital stays of a week or more,” said Arlene Rogers, Primary Health Care Nurse in Fort Qu’Appelle.

“It’s not fun. At times it can feel like you’re drowning,” Grismer said. “You keep trying to get air but you can’t, because you can’t breathe out properly.”

The disease is debilitating, and is on the list of the six chronic conditions the Region is focused on preventing. The Region is working toward reducing hospital admissions for those living with COPD, and to do this, more in-community supports are being offered.

There is now a COPD rehabilitation program being offered in Fort Qu’Appelle and patients have increased access to Spirometry testing – a breathing test used to diagnose COPD – throughout the Region, including the rural areas.

“I took a class from Arlene, and she taught me how to breathe out fully, and exercises to do even when sitting down to help work my lungs,” Grismer said.

The work being done in the Touchwood Qu’Appelle Primary Health Care Network was set up as a pilot, to offer Spirometry testing and COPD rehabilitation classes in the rural areas of the Region. The program itself is based on a successful model being run in Regina by Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region (RQHR) Respiratory Services and has been adapted to meet the needs of the community. COPD diagnostic services have also expanded to other rural locations (Balcarres, Lestock, Grenfell) and there is much interest in expanding COPD support programs like the one Rogers is running in Fort Qu’Appelle.

“I am now running my third COPD rehabilitation class,” said Arlene. “I offer the participants support, education and tools to improve their quality of life. I teach them about the condition and exercises to improve strength and stamina.”

With COPD, it is a circle: it starts with being unable to breathe, which leads to being less active. Less activity leads to becoming house-bound and often depressed. Being house bound means doing even less, which leads to even more shortness of breath and the cycle continues.

It is a disease that does not go away and there is no cure. Once a person is diagnosed with COPD, accepting that they will have to pace themselves and understanding that shortness of breath, wheezing and other COPD symptoms are their new reality is important. Also, learning to recognize worsening symptoms and to manage them is the best way to avoid trips to the hospital’s emergency department.

“The disease carries a lot of stigma because one of the main causes of COPD is smoking. My intention is not to judge anyone, but to give them the information and the tools to live their lives as best as they can,” said Arlene.

“If there is one thing I can get across to people by talking about my COPD, it’s to say never smoke. Don’t start, ever. And if you are a smoker, quit. I was smoking two packs a day, and now I can’t even leave my house,” Grismer said, a message that if heard can go a long way in preventing COPD for patients in the future