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Highlighting INTEGRIS Health Respiratory Therapists

Now more than ever, respiratory therapists and caregivers deserve our gratitude and celebration. 

Like all healthcare professionals you’ll meet at INTEGRIS Health, our respiratory therapists are dedicated to providing the highest level of patient care, but they are exhausted. You may not realize it, but when it comes to caring for COVID-19 patients, respiratory therapists handle much of the day-to-day care, alongside nurses, doctors and other staff. 

The following are the job of the respiratory therapy team.

  • Assist with diagnosing lung or breathing disorders
  • Evaluate patients and performing tests and studies
  • Determine appropriate therapy and treatment options with physicians
  • Analyze blood and sputum in the lab
  • Manage equipment and devices needed to help people that can’t breathe normally on their own
  • Educate patients and families about lung diseases and breathing disorders

When a COVID (or other) patient requires a ventilator or oxygen therapy, breathing treatments, humidity-aerosol therapy, pulmonary drainage procedures, mechanical ventilation or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, it is the respiratory therapist who is responsible.

We’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of our dedicated, compassionate respiratory therapists, ask them how they are doing and celebrate them for everything they do.

 

Justin Worley, Respiratory Therapist, INTEGRIS Baptist Portland Avenue

Worley has been a respiratory therapist (RT) for two decades. “At the time I chose to go into respiratory, I was looking for a secure job that would allow me flexibility to travel and see various parts of the country,” he says.

He estimates he’s seen hundreds of COVID patients since the start of the pandemic.  COVID patients are unique in multiple ways, he says.  “COVID patients react differently to standard treatments.  They decompensate quicker and take much longer for their oxygenation to recover when doing things that are pretty routine. Treating a regular pneumonia versus a COVID pneumonia as drastically different.  They both may require intubation and mechanical ventilation, but the COVID patients are so much more complex and do not respond to treatment the way we are used to seeing others respond.”

Like many people who have been on the front lines of the pandemic, Worley has found himself dealing with overwork and burnout. But he’s developed some coping tools. “In the hospital and at work, I try to keep things light and stay happy by joking with my fellow RTs and nurses.  At home, I take care of myself by just not thinking about work,” he says.

He offers some thoughts for fellow RTs or anyone struggling during this time. “Things will get better eventually.  Worry about what you can control; stay focused on one patient at a time one day at a time.”

 

Caitlin Coppock, RRT-ACCS, Department Manager for Respiratory Care, INTEGRIS Baptist Portland Avenue 

In addition to serving as the department manager for respiratory care at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, Portland Avenue, Coppock provides respiratory coverage and oversight for Lakeside Women's Center. She has been a respiratory therapist at INTEGRIS Health since 2014.  “I left bedside earlier this year and took on my current role March 1, 2021,” she says. “I am extremely passionate about our profession and really appreciate the efforts in bringing awareness to our field.”

As an RT, Coppock has noticed that people generally may not understand what her role is.  “A common misconception is that we just give breathing treatments. Though that is one of the things we do, our specialty and most important role is assessing and managing patients' respiratory needs and the various machines that provide respiratory support to critically ill patients.”  

An RT may do one or more of the following: first assist with bronchoscopy, performing pulmonary function tests (PFTs), high flow oxygen, non-invasive ventilatory support (BIPAP and CPAP), ventilators, inhaled prostaglandins, tracheostomy care and airway management.  “We work in practically all areas of the hospital. When a patient is struggling to breathe, having oxygen issues, or critically ill we are a part of their care team and are there for all emergencies.”

The most important messages she wants to share about the pandemic, from her perspective, are directed at the dedicated employees of INTEGRIS Health and also the community at large. “Most importantly, thank you to our employees who keep showing up!  We would not be getting by without them.” 

And to the public: “Viruses do not discriminate; we've seen all ages impacted from COVID-19 and lost so many that either had no opportunity to receive a vaccine or did not think they would be one to get critically ill and die from this virus.  Please continue to take this seriously and protect those you love.”

INTEGRIS Health has always provided a unique opportunity to respiratory therapists.  “At INTEGRIS Health, we have implemented various protocols that allow RTs to use the skills and knowledge to properly assess patients for bronchodilator therapy, mucolytics, chest physiotherapy, high flow oxygen, and ventilator management. This allows RTs who specifically study this field for years to make decisions real-time at bedside to be able to provide our patients with the best care possible,” she says.

 

Gayle M. Coker, MBA, RRT, Manager Cardio/Pulmonary, INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital

An RT for twenty years, Coker’s journey began in somewhat of an unusual way. “My journey began a little different than some. So often we see Respiratory Therapists change paths to go into nursing.  Mine was the opposite. I began in nursing and actually changed over 20 years ago to respiratory therapy,” she says.  “That change was because of a seven-month-old little girl who died at a time when doctors were just beginning to really learn about Cystic Fibrosis. That little girl was my mother’s baby sister.”

Coker explains that dedicating one’s career to one person is more common than you might think. “So many respiratory therapists have their one unique person for whom they are dedicated to the profession: a mother diagnosed with lung cancer, A grandmother diagnosed with emphysema, or a child diagnosed with asthma.”  

When asked what someone in her role might help with, her response mirrors the others’. “Oh my goodness, an easier question would be what couldn’t a respiratory therapist help with? We are of course the ones called when a patient is in the hospital for any kind of respiratory distress: asthma, COPD, pneumonia…We are also at the bedside for all respiratory failures/code blue calls within the hospital. We attend all high-risk deliveries.”

She continues. “Patients who have congestive heart failure, patients in renal failure, post op patients…..the list is really endless because RTs literally see and help with so many areas and all patient populations.”

The pandemic has been grueling for her. When asked how many COVID patients she has seen, she’s forthright. “I honestly could not even say. I can remember our first patients that we had on the ventilator. I can remember the first leadership meetings we had that first week. But as far as a number….no.”  

When it comes to COVID, RTs are in a unique position. “For each one of these patients who have walked through our doors with COVID, respiratory therapists are there from that moment until the very end.  They are the bedside caregivers that see the same patients when the patient required no oxygen, then changed them to a nasal cannula, changed them to BiPap, changed them to high flow, they were at the same bedside when that patient had to be intubated and put on a ventilator, they care for these patients while they are on the ventilator, they are at the bedside at the end of life. This last year and half has been extremely hard for respiratory therapists for more ways than most realize.”  

Her team at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley is small but mighty. She and all of her team acknowledge that taking care of themselves and each other is crucial. “Over the past year-and-a-half it has been so important for everyone, not just me, but the entire staff to be able to step away and take time off, take small vacations while everyone else stepped in to cover.  Those small breaks allowed for a renewal of spirit and hope.”

The final question we asked her was ‘What would you like people to know about the pandemic, from your perspective?’ Her answer is both poignant and strong. “Each one of us is different than we were in February 2020 because of a million different reasons. There have been some small moments when we were able to laugh together, there has been an ocean of tears shed, some triumphs, so many times in which we have stumbled and felt hopeless. One thing that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt: There is a team of respiratory therapists at INTEGRIS Canadian Valley that make a difference every second of every day. There are respiratory therapists at all the INTEGRIS Health facilities making a difference every day.” 

 

Thank you to our dedicated respiratory therapy caregivers at INTEGRIS Health. To learn more about respiratory therapy careers at INTEGRIS Health, please visit our careers website.

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