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October 22, 2013 > Respiratory Care Week Salutes Those Who Help People Breathe Easier

Respiratory Care Week Salutes Those Who Help People Breathe Easier

You may not think about every breath you take, but thankfully respiratory care professionals do. They provide care to millions of Americans, from newborns to the elderly, who are having difficulty breathing, whether itÕs due to an illness, accident, or surgical procedure.
ÒWe work in the entire hospital 24/7 assisting people of all ages,Ó said Matt Ybarra, respiratory therapist and Respiratory Care Coordinator at Washington Hospital. ÒWhen a patient is having trouble breathing or canÕt breathe on their own, respiratory therapists provide care.Ó
To recognize these dedicated professionals and their commitment to helping people breathe easier, Respiratory Care Week was created by the Association of Respiratory Care in 1982. This year it was held October 20-26.
In California, only licensed respiratory care practitioners like Ybarra can provide respiratory care. They are one of three types of licensed health care professionals who work at patientsÕ bedsides most often. The other two are physicians and registered nurses.
Respiratory care practitioners routinely perform a variety of duties, including:
¥ Use mechanical ventilation for patients who need it
¥ Administer medications in aerosol form
¥ Monitor equipment and patientsÕ responses to therapy
¥ Obtain blood specimens and analyze them to determine levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases.
¥ Maintain artificial airways (tracheostomy or intubation)
¥ Measure the capacity of patientsÕ lungs to determine if there is impairment
¥ Obtain and analyze sputum specimens and chest X-rays
¥ Assess vital signs and other indicators of respiratory dysfunction
¥ Perform stress tests and other studies of the cardiopulmonary system
¥ Study disorders of people with disruptive sleep patterns
¥ Conduct rehabilitation activities
¥ Lead asthma education and smoking cessation programs
Critical Care
ÒWe work everywhere Ð pediatrics, the emergency department, intensive care Ð where there are lungs and problems with lungs, we are there,Ó Ybarra said. ÒWe are also an integral part of the critical care team.Ó
Critical care specialists treat the most gravely ill patients in the hospital. These patients are generally clinging to life due to a medical condition like cancer, stroke, or lung disease, or are victims of a serious accident.
ÒWashington Hospital uses a multidisciplinary approach to critical care,Ó Ybarra explained. ÒWe work together as a team.Ó
In addition to respiratory therapists, the critical care team includes physicians who are specially trained in critical care medicine called intensivists, critical care nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, physical therapists, speech therapist, social workers, case managers, physician specialists and spiritual care staff.
ÒThe goal is to get these critically ill patients off the breathing machine as soon as possible,Ó he said. ÒThe team does rounds together. We go from patient to patient and evaluate where the patient is at, what the goals are for their care, and what needs to happen so they are well enough to move out of the intensive care unit. How they are breathing is a huge part of that.Ó
Reducing Readmissions
ÒRespiratory therapists also spend a lot of time on education,Ó Ybarra added. ÒWe educate patients in the hospital setting so they know how to manage their condition after they go home. That really helps to avoid readmissions.Ó
He said Washington Hospital has started a pilot project to help reduce hospital readmissions among lung disease patients, particularly those with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). A specially trained respiratory therapist works to get patients enrolled in Washington HospitalÕs pulmonary rehabilitation program before they leave the hospital.
ÒWe are looking to close the gap between inpatient and outpatient care when it comes to people with COPD,Ó Ybarra explained. ÒThe pulmonary rehabilitation program requires a referral from a physician and there is a lag between when a patient leaves the hospital and when they start the program. Often they get sick again before they can start the program. So the goal is to have them start the program soon after they are discharged so they can get the support and education they need to stay healthy right away.Ó
Through the pulmonary rehabilitation program, respiratory therapists provide one-on-one counseling to people with lung diseases like COPD, asthma, and emphysema. They help people learn how to manage their disease with medications and lifestyle changes.
For more information about pulmonary rehabilitation services offered at Washington Hospital, visit

Respiratory Care Week ? TCV October 29, 2013 ? Caitlin Kerk ? 408.972.5781 ? Page 2

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