Respiratory Therapists: Unsung Heroes

By: Lucinda Tatman RCP, Cardiopulmonary Services Manager

Respiratory Therapists across the nation have too often only been silent heroes during this pandemic. There are a reported 111,000 Respiratory Therapists in the USA. That number pales in comparison to nurses and physicians; however, Respiratory Therapists’ contributions to healthcare are profound. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics report a job growth need of 21% between 2018-2028, which is considered much faster than the average.

David Corn, author and Washington DC bureau chief reported, “The media have been covering the ventilator deficit and efforts to increase production of the device. But there is a parallel story that has drawn less attention: the availability of the health care professionals who can insert and operate the ventilators.” He further raised awareness of the job of Respiratory Therapists and the role they play in life support in the most ill patients with adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This syndrome is one of the most devastating effects of many patients infected by the coronavirus.

COVID-19 is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system with a vengeance. While we sincerely appreciate all that our nursing and physician partners are doing in the fight for life, it is also the Respiratory Therapists who work on the front lines with patients in outpatient and inpatient arenas. They function in both diagnostic and therapeutic interventions, including the Intensive Care Units with the most severely ill patients who require life-support via mechanical ventilation.  Respiratory Therapists are the key experts in mechanical ventilatory strategies who consult and work with physicians and nurses.

Respiratory Therapy leaders working with Coquille Valley Hospital’s Emergency Operation Plan Team have been feverishly busy creating or consulting on pandemic surge plans and identifying and labeling all ventilators to assure the adequate number and ventilator types are available for all levels of life support. In addition, the team is strategically tracking all available RTs for sharing based on experience and training. To prepare for possible surge of patients at CVH, an inventory of supplies available for use in airway management during the surge has been created in cooperation with our Materials Management team.

As a healthcare organization, we are certainly better together.  In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “United we stand…divided we fall.”  The Respiratory Therapists of Coquille Valley Hospital wish to thank nurses, physicians, housekeepers, lab, behavioral health, supply chain and imaging staff members as well as our administrative and executive leaders, HIM, HR, dietary, IT, plant operations, education and infectious disease consultants for all the efforts in forwarding overall safety and our patients, first and always!

1DataUSA: https://datausa.io/profile/soc/respiratory-therapists

2US Bureau of Labor and Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm

3Mother Jones: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2020/03/ventilator-crisis-enough-respiratory-therapists/