Did you know that November is COPD awareness month? I didn’t. My grandmother lived with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for years, but she was also a lifelong smoker and had a myriad of other health issues, so I had not given the disease much thought. That is, until I started my service term.
I began my service term with the National Health Corps Florida AmeriCorps Program, an initiative of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition at Tobacco Free Jacksonville where I was a part of the Breathe Free Flagler campaign. This year, Flagler College has implemented a smoke and tobacco-free campus policy. As part of introducing the policy, I provided education to students about smoking and vaping as well as resources to quit. I quickly realized by talking with students and faculty just how much smoking had been an issue on campus before the campaign. Being such a small campus with so many smokers, it was virtually impossible to get through the day without being exposed to secondhand smoke. This is where COPD comes into the picture.
I had always thought of COPD as a smoker’s disease, but it is actually caused by exposure to any air pollutant, including secondhand smoke or work-related dust, fumes, and chemicals. Even the non-smoking students were increasing their risk of developing COPD by inhaling secondhand smoke every day. Luckily, there are organizations like Tobacco Free Jacksonville that promote healthy air for all in order to mitigate our risk for diseases caused by smoke and air pollution.
When I left Tobacco Free Jacksonville and began service at the Sulzbacher, I thought that my focus on smoking would shift, but as I began ordering prescriptions for patients through assistance programs, I realized this was not the case. I frequently see the same medications over and over, and many of these are used to treat COPD. This is because COPD disproportionately affects individuals with lower socioeconomic status due to increased exposure to pollutants and lack of access to treatment and resources for healthy living. At Sulzbacher, we are addressing this multitude of challenges. I specifically help by providing individuals with low or no income a way to access the COPD medications they need through prescription assistance programs.
So, now that you know it’s COPD awareness month, I encourage you to take a look at how often you are exposed to polluted air. Every week? Every day? If you are a smoker or you know someone who is, utilize resources to quit, such as Smokefree.gov. COPD is a preventable disease, and with support from health-centered organizations like the ones we have in Jacksonville, we can greatly reduce the impact that it has on the lives of ourselves and others.
This blog was written by NHC FL AmeriCorps member, Haley Barefoot.
Haley serves at I.M. Sulzbacher Center as a Patient Navigator.