Color & Control:

Better access to COPD therapy

By Tammie Fournier, Lisa Curtis and Robyn Palk 

Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) is the gold standard treatment for people living with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), yet less than 1% of Canadians with COPD have access to this important therapy. 

Pulmonary Rehabilitation (PR) is an education and exercise-based program typically offered three times a week for 8 weeks. Participants are given education on all aspects of COPD including symptom management, how to properly take their medication, healthy diet, and healthy living. Exercise takes place during every session and is tailored to the needs of participants. The exercise component includes stretching, small hand weights, cardio, and balance exercises. The aim of this program is to improve the participant’s quality of life, lessen visits to the emergency room, decrease hospital admissions, with an end goal of reducing healthcare costs.

Early in her career, as a respiratory therapist, Tammie Fournier recognized that pulmonary rehabilitation is vital to improve the quality of life of her patients living with COPD. She often tells the story of finding a VHS recording of a Pulmonary Rehabilitation program, placing it on the Respirologist’s desk and announcing  “ALL of our patients need this, we need this program everywhere!” Twenty-five years later she is now making this a reality.

As Chair of Allied Health at the New Brunswick Community College, Tammie applied for a research grant through the Provincial Initiatives Fund of the Healthy Seniors Pilot Project and 1.1M dollars was awarded to operationalize a pulmonary rehabilitation clinic and further her research in an Innovative and Community-Partnered Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Seniors in New Brunswick.

This program is innovative in several ways; the first being that an interprofessional mix of students in their final year of healthcare studies aid in delivering the educational and exercise content of the program. The infusion of students into the clinic helps train future healthcare heroes in the delivery of PR. The second is that the PR program was established outside of critical hospital space and placed into a community setting. The clinic has been set up at the community college, with easy access to the program for seniors as well as the students involved. The clinic has also partnered with civic centres to expand access to the program for those living in smaller rural communities in New Brunswick.

To date, the program has enrolled 55 participants and provided healthcare training to 110 students from NBCC’s respiratory therapy, practical nurse, and pharmacy technician programs, and UNB’s Bachelor of Nursing and Kinesiology programs.

Not all the data has been collected, but we are seeing exciting early evidence indicating important improvements in the participants’ abilities and quality of life.

A past participant stated “Before Pulmonary rehab I had no life, but worse I had no hope. Today I overcame Covid-19, a harsh winter and now have the ability to have a full, fun life with friends and family. By applying what I learned daily, my life is fantastic. I am forever grateful.”

Lisa Curtis and Robyn Palk are Respiratory Therapists and co-coordinators of the innovative and community-partnered pulmonary rehabilitation for seniors in New Brunswick research project. 

The research team is comprised of: Tammie Fournier, RRT Allied Health, New Brunswick Community College, Daniel A. Nagel, RN, PhD College of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Isdore Chola Shamputa, PhD, RN Department of Nursing & Health Sciences, University of New Brunswick, Derek J. Gaudet, MA Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, John Doucet, BSc, RRT Allied Health, New Brunswick Community College and Christy Bishop, BSc, RRT Allied Health, New Brunswick Community College.

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