Respiratory therapists’ importance highlighted in COVID-19 crisis


OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – With the spotlight on medical workers, one specialty that’s critical to keeping patients with coronavirus is coming into the limelight, and current registered respiratory therapists say the need for them is getting worse.

“Respiratory therapists play a very vital role in ICUs across the country,” said local RRN Caitlin Coppock.

She explained that registered respiratory therapists (RRTs) work with patients who are on mechanical ventilators, commonly called life support machines.

The RRTs are not only tasked with helping patients get oxygen, but they use the data collected from mechanical ventilators to help determine what is happening inside that person’s body.

“These COVID patients particularly are, the lungs in layman’s terms are becoming very very stiff,” Coppock said.

That stiffness can make it more difficult to help their lungs breathe. She said it helps explain one infected person’s description of the shortness of breath.

“They explained it as their chest not being able to expand and it felt like there was a belt wrapped around their chest. In a way that makes sense because if their lungs are becoming stiff, it’s kind of that similar concept,” Coppock said. 

With about 155,000 RRTs in the country, there’s not yet a shortage, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for respiratory therapists is expected to increase by 23% in the next six years.

Professor Clyde Moss is the director for the Respiratory Care Therapist Program at Francis Tuttle Technology Center in partnership with the Oklahoma City Community College. He said hospitals are already expecting this year’s graduates.

“It’s a growing field and there’s a need for a 23 to 26 percent increase in respiratory therapists over the next ten years.

Coppock said as the need for mechanical ventilators increases, so will the need for those who can run them.

“I think this is going to bring a lot of interest to the field for sure,” Coppock said, “I just wish it would have happened years ago so we had more numbers.”

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