Respiratory therapists honoured as their crucial need exposed

·3 min read

Respiratory therapists across the country are being acknowledged and celebrated this week in honour of Respiratory Therapy Week.

“The goal of Respiratory Therapy Week is to celebrate the profession and those working in it, and to educate the public and governments about the essential roles respiratory therapists play across the health are system,” Carolyn McCoy, director of accreditation services and professional practice at the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists, told the News.

Vanessa Dooley, professional practice lead for respiratory therapy in Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and the South Zone, explained that respiratory therapists specialize in cardiopulmonary health and work in numerous areas of the health-care system

“Anyone that needs help with their breathing, we are there,” Dooley said. “Sometimes that means a premature newborn who’s lungs have not quite developed yet, sometimes it’s an elderly patient who is taking their last few breaths.

“We run the ventilators, we provide oxygen therapy, we are a part of the emergency response team for traumas and other medical emergencies. We provide respiratory education and we also perform cardiopulmonary diagnostic testing. And that’s just within the hospital. We also have respiratory therapists within our community.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a profound burden on health-care workers in all fields, with respiratory therapists at the forefront.

“The pandemic is taking a toll on the mental health of our members,” McCoy said. “Initially, one of the biggest stressors faced by respiratory therapists was the fear that they could bring the virus home to their loved ones. Now, the biggest stressor is that the pace of this pandemic hasn’t let up long enough for them to rest and recuperate physically or mentally. They have been surrounded by illness and death day in and day out for over a year and a half.”

Dooley says respiratory therapists in Alberta are feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic both within and outside of work.

“It’s been a lot … We used to get a really sick patient once in a while and now it’s the norm … The times are unprecedented and, honestly, overwhelming.

“There’s no other health-care worker who’s exposed to COVID-19 at the level that respiratory therapists are. The fact that we show emotion, it just shows how much we really do care and how hard we are trying to save every single last one of these people.”

“If anything, the pandemic has highlighted how very few of us there are and how necessary we are within the health-care system. You can buy a bed and buy a ventilator, but you can’t make a respiratory therapist out of thin air. It takes a lot of training, expertise and dedication.”

Dooley is grateful for the recognition Respiratory Therapy Week has directed toward individuals in the profession.

“It’s just nice to hear that you’re appreciated and people notice what you’re doing,” she said.

McCoy and the CSRT hope this week will raise awareness about the importance of respiratory therapy, not just in the public realm, but in government as well.

“It is imperative that government and health-care leaders take time to fully understand the essential roles respiratory therapists play and recognize them appropriately.”

Alberta Minister of Health Jason Copping released a statement on Oct. 24 to “sincerely thank respiratory therapists.”

“They are displaying extraordinary efforts and tireless commitment to the challenging battle against COVID-19. Their expertise is helping to save lives,” Copping said in the release. He encouraged all Albertans to show their appreciation.

KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Medicine Hat News

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