Respiratory Care Week: Respiratory therapists' role during COVID-19 and beyond |

Respiratory Care Week: Respiratory therapists' role during COVID-19 and beyond

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: October 30, 2020 06:24 PM

It's respiratory care week, a time to appreciate the everyday work respiratory therapists do in hospitals to treat a wide variety of patients. Their role has been crucial during this health pandemic with the influx of patients experiencing breathing issues during COVID-19.

Respiratory therapists have been on the front lines helping patients during this health pandemic.

"We see these patients who come in with chronic conditions or flu like symptoms or covid like symptoms and we try to intervene and help them breathe and assisting with that before they become critically ill and need a ventilator," said Ellie Fournier, a respiratory therapist and clinical instructor for Lake Superior College's respiratory therapy program.

Respiratory therapists are the ones managing the ventilators we hear so much about during COVID-19 and offer other crucial therapies. They treat problems with the lungs and breathing that stem from a variety of conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and more. They work closely with pulmonologists, ICU and emergency department staff.

"On the acute side we respond to all traumas, high risk deliveries, cardiac arrests and anything that's acutely going on in a patient's stay in the hospital," said Jason Rasch, the St. Luke's respiratory therapy department supervisor.

"Everybody needs to breathe and being short of breath at any time is probably one of the scariest things that you can experience and especially now dealing with patients, that is something that they say they're most fearful when they can't breathe," said Fournier.

Fournier said she was inspired to get into the field after a personal experience where she witnessed the hard work respiratory therapists do.

"About six years ago I had my first child and we ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit at Essentia for about a week and a half and through the process you have a whole group of health care professionals that take care of you and your infant. At that point I knew I wanted to leave the career I was in and go back to school and do something in health care and I landed on respiratory therapy," said Fournier.

Fournier went through the respiratory therapy program at Lake Superior College. The program has noted an increase in enrollment during COVID-19 as more and more respiratory therapists are needed in hospitals.

"When it comes to breathing and how your lungs can affect your whole body and when something like shortness of breath occurs, it plays a role in everything going on with a patient," said Fournier.

"When COVID-19 first came up back in March there was a large spike of patients and then it kind of slowed down because we shut down all our procedures so it got a little slow. This time of year on a yearly basis we see an uptick in respiratory disease and along with this we're seeing we're getting pretty busy now," said Rasch.

Rasch said there's more to the job then what they normally do that deepens their connection with patients by being their for them during their most vulnerable moments.

"We're treating their disease and helping with that but we're also there to kind of give them a hand and someone to talk to. Respiratory therapists might hold the hand of someone who's going through end of life issues. I know we've had respiratory therapists help the patients with COVID-19 facetime their families when they couldn't come in and see him," said Rasch.

"In the public and in the hospital we are taking the opportunity to step up and to share that knowledge with other people in the hospital as we work with doctors and nurses and other staff. I think that patients and family members appreciate us even more and have a better understanding of what we do," said Fournier.


Alejandra Palacios

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