Kicking the Habit, We’re Smoke Free!

Colorado often tops the charts as one of the ‘healthiest places to live’ in the U.S. With thousands of acres of untamed wilderness, miles of biking and hiking trails, and some of the best rapids in the lower 48, the state is a mecca for healthy living and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. However, there are still many health challenges like high rates of tobacco use and exposure to second-hand smoke.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 14.6% of adult Coloradans use tobacco, with many more being subject to second-hand smoke every day.

Effective August 2018, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires all federally funded public housing and multi-family properties to eliminate smoking inside their properties and institute a smoke-free policy. Mercy Housing appreciates the health benefits associated with smoking cessation and eliminating exposure to second-hand smoke too, so we’ve chosen to adopt this policy as well; creating a smoke-free environment at all our properties nationwide.

Low-income families are more likely to be exposed to tobacco use and second-hand smoke.

Community Partners Join Together for Residents’ Health

Supporting Mercy Housing residents in their journey toward tobacco reduction and cessation is a top priority. However, launching a successful cessation program from the ground up is not an easy task. There can be many barriers between people wanting to quit and connecting them with resources to increase success rates. Leveraging a community partner was a vital step for Mercy Housing in securing the success of the tobacco cessation navigation program.

Denver Health has been a leader in the community for tobacco cessation coaching and education for decades. With a history of working with Mercy Housing, they were a natural choice to partner with on this program. Mercy Housing was very excited to announce a formal partnership with Denver Health in developing and implementing a tobacco cessation program this past year. Currently, five Mercy Housing properties in Denver are participating in this program and include; Aromor Apartments, Francis Heights, Holly Park Apartments, Decatur Place Apartments, and Franconia Apartments.

Mercy Housing is also excited to be one of the first grantees of its kind to integrate a cessation program in-house; giving residents easy access to workshops, meetings, support groups, and one-on-one coaching. The program is funded through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as part of a 3-year State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership (STEPP) grant that allows Denver Health and Mercy Housing to concentrate on what they do best and merge their expertise together.

Leading the Charge

Peggy, Health Program Specialist, is leading the charge from Denver Health as technical assistance to all STEPP grantees through tracking, advising, and implementation of the smoke-free policy. Her goal is to “make policy sustainable through a good framework” that educates about the dangers of second-hand smoke and creates a safe environment for residents to thrive. Peggy is also a certified National Tobacco Treatment Specialist, using motivational interviewing to focus on person-centered care that tailors treatment plans to individual needs. Additionally, she coaches participants and connects them with nicotine replacement supplies.

John joined Mercy Housing as the Cessation Coordinator and will oversee this program along with Susanne, Mercy Housing Health Navigator Lead. As a former Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Behavioral Health Specialist, John brings a wealth of knowledge with him and is well-versed in working with individuals and the community. He has already become a familiar face at the properties by engaging with residents during onsite activities and promotion of the new program. John has implemented weekly group meetings, offers open walk-in office hours and meets with residents one-on-one to help build rapport and increase participation in the program.

John believes “trust is everything” and wants to build a support network that offers building blocks for success to all involved and ensure participants know he’s there to help support them.

Susanne has been with Mercy Housing for the last five years as the Health Navigator Lead. Her experience as the Resident Service Director for Boulder County Housing Authority has given her a unique perspective on providing community-based healthcare to residents. Her primary role is to bring enhanced services to residents with access to health and wellness programs. She is excited about the collaboration with Denver Health and the opportunity to bring this program to Mercy Housing.

“The timing of the grant could not be better since Mercy Housing has gone smoke-free at all their properties. Additionally, many residents have asked for help with cessation resources, and this new program brings much-needed support to those trying to quit,” Susanne said.

Positive Impact

Currently, there are 23 active participants in the program with more expected to join as it ramps up at each property. While cessation is the ultimate goal, Peggy explains that “tobacco reduction is also celebrated and considered a success.” Each week, participants are asked to set one goal for themselves. These goals are logged in a journal that allows them to track their progress and act as a reference throughout their journey.

The program takes a holistic approach and focuses on healthy eating habits, good sleeping behaviors, increasing physical activity, and providing a social support system that residents can trust and count on.

Additional resources offer residents one-on-one coaching, group coaching, personalized support, education about resources like the Quit Line, nicotine replacement supplies, and a social network that extends beyond the program.

For both Peggy and John, the opportunity to bring this program to Mercy Housing is a positive step toward improving lives, reducing negative health outcomes associated with tobacco use and second-hand smoke, and reducing cycles of tobacco use. By breaking down the barriers, this program will help reduce the normalization of tobacco use within families while creating a healthier environment for all to live.

The most rewarding part for Peggy is the idea of, “making a difference in one person’s life and being able to watch the full circle of recovery.”

For John, “this grant feels really innovative and novel and something that hasn’t been done before. It puts the emphasis back on preventative health and cessation. It’s exciting to see a state [Colorado] invest money in prevention and it’s a big deal.”

There are countless health benefits from tobacco use reduction and cessation, and it all begins with the right tools. The STEPP grant allows Denver Health and Mercy Housing to partner on innovative change together by providing those who are ready to quit, access to the right resources and a support network to champion their cause. Together they are improving the lives and showing what true community means.