Oklahoma hospital warns of respiratory therapist shortage

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) - Little lives rely on breathing machines and respiratory therapists to help keep them alive, but there are not enough professionals who specialize in respiratory therapy.

9-year-old Danny has lived at Children's Center Rehabilitation Hospital for two years. He uses a ventilator to help him breathe every day.

“It's about 35% of our patients are on a ventilator but probably close to 85-95% require respiratory therapy on a daily basis," Dr. Michael Johnson, chief medical officer at Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital said.

It’s a problem at the Children's Center and all around the country. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for respiratory therapists is expected to increase by 23% in the next six years.

"As medical advances take place in technology, there's just a growing need. Different equipment is out, different patients population, patients are being born earlier and earlier,” Dawn Ayala, director of respiratory therapy at Children's Center Rehab Hospital, said.

Preemies who might not have survived decades ago can now live because of ventilators.

The Children's Center has 48 respiratory therapists now and wants to add 10 to 15 more.

They're hoping more people will go into the field.

"Five schools in the state of Oklahoma, four of which do actual clinical skills here hands-on with our patients to learn respiratory therapy, but they only have so many that graduate every year," Ayala said.

The national median salary is around $60,000 a year.

Children's Center Rehab Hospital hopes creating awareness about this medical role will help them serve more patients in the future.

"We feel the burden and the need to expand the number of patients we can serve and we have to have the staff to be able to do that,” Dr. Johnson said.

Francis Tuttle and Rose State College are two schools in the metro that offer respiratory therapy programs.

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