The American Lung Association is celebrating the achievements of two employees' outstanding work in the field of tuberculosis (TB) outreach. Luvette Baldwin and Stephanie Quinn, each Health Promotion Managers of the American Lung Association of Georgia, have been named Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) U.S. TB Elimination Champions.
Stephanie and Luvette work with patients who have TB and are homeless and low-income to provide food, clothing, personal hygiene kits and transportation as part of the Georgia Department of Public Health TB Program. They work diligently to find housing placement for every patient, especially during late Friday afternoon hospital discharges, once they have completed treatment. They coordinate job training for patients and help reunite them with family. Because of Stephanie and Luvette's work – who together, have more than 40 years of experience at the American Lung Association – more TB patients who are homeless in Georgia have successfully completed treatment.
TB primarily affects the lungs, although it can also infect other parts of the body, and it spreads from person to person through the air. Those with active TB in the lungs may experience a persistent cough, constant fatigue, fever, weight loss and night sweats. If not treated, TB can lead to death. While TB is largely controlled in the U.S., there are still issues concerning adherence to treatment. Patients take a combination of several drugs over a six-to-12-month period, and some must consult with a healthcare worker or trained volunteer. Without proper supervision, it can be difficult for patients to complete treatment and, when not treated for properly, TB can reappear in more aggressive strains.
The CDC's U.S. TB Elimination Champions recognizes individuals and organizations that are engaging in effective ways to end TB in the U.S. The significant contribution of these honorees provides best practices to other groups in preventing and eliminating TB.
"This award means that the work that the American Lung Association does for the state TB Program is an essential part of the TB treatment regimen when the patients are homeless, and it enables them to complete their TB treatment in a timely manner," Luvette said.
Homeless populations tend to be transient, which produces an extra challenge for TB outreach, Stephanie said.
"They move from one location to another, making it difficult for the health departments to provide the necessary medication to them to help prevent the spread of TB," she said.
Luvette stresses the importance of work in these communities because a high percentage of their TB patients also have mental health or drug dependency issues. "A significant number of our patients have co-morbidities, such as diabetes and HIV, which can cause their TB treatment to be more difficult and extended," she said.
The two often step in as friendly allies for patients. They promote patient cooperation and treatment adherence by providing them gift cards to nearby fast food restaurants and local grocery stores. While responding to one outbreak in particular, their incentive strategy resulted in a 90 percent treatment completion rate among patients.
In the years to come, Stephanie and Luvette hope to see further advancements in TB outreach among homeless and low-income communities with collaboration of state mental health and drug addiction programs and greater efforts in the patient identification process.
"Many of our patients are unable to apply for benefits and seek employment or housing due to not having the proper identification and limited resources," Stephanie said. "A one-stop shop with workers who could help explain processes and gather resources would help expedite the process and get people back on their feet without a fee being charged."
Stephanie and Luvette say they are grateful to be working with the Georgia Department of Public Health. Protecting the public from the spread of TB is a very difficult job, and they thank Dr. Rose-Marie Sales, director of TB control, and her staff for their tremendous support.
The American Lung Association proudly honors Luvette and Stephanie as they are recognized as U.S. TB Elimination Champions.