Respiratory Therapist Is an Important Part of Team Fighting COVID-19

Respiratory team helps coronavirus patients breathe easier

Marc Russell and Scripps’ team of respiratory therapists often provide care to COVID-19 patients from start to finish, including initial assessment in an emergency room to hospitalization and discharge. He says that care can be over the course of a few weeks or extend to two or three months.

“We’re an important part of the team,” says Russell, who is a respiratory therapist at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. “It’s scary, it’s rewarding and it’s interesting because this is something new for all of us — the intensivists, nurses and respiratory therapists — and we are learning more every day.”

Russell says the use of the fastest available molecular point-of-care testing for detecting COVID-19 has been a huge help for staff in recent weeks. “There are added precautions we have to take and protocols for treating coronavirus patients. Now with the results within minutes, we can move COVID-19 patients with significant respiratory distress into negative pressure rooms, aerosolize medications and oxygen, with the proper preparations in place, or even start intubation so a patient can be placed on a ventilator as quickly as possible.” 

On any given day, Russell says he can care for up to four coronavirus patients who are on ventilators in the intensive care unit. He adds that it takes about 15 minutes to gown up in personal protective gear to go into a room. He then provides a variety of care from making ventilator breathing tube changes to prevent patients from developing sores on their lips and providing oral hygiene to assisting physicians with tracheotomies and bronchoscopies. 

“There's a lot that comes into play with caring for these COVID-19 patients that requires respiratory therapists to be at the bedside more frequently than normal. We want to be sure we are taking the precautions to protect our patients, our co-workers, our families and ourselves,” says Russell. “I wake up every morning and am happy that I don't have a sore throat, or I'm not symptomatic.”

“We work every day so that our patients can go home to their own loved ones, just like we want to be able to do at the end of the day.”

Russell expresses that the rewards of his job during the pandemic are many, including learning new ways of providing care to coronavirus patients, such as the use of high-flow oxygen whenever possible to avoid intubation. He says his wife, Sarah, is a nurse case manager at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla so she understands the importance of his job, as well as the risks.

“We work every day so that our patients can go home to their own loved ones, just like we want to be able to do at the end of the day,” adds Russell. “I couldn't be more proud of the other respiratory therapists and the way our supervisors have provided us with the equipment that we need to do our jobs.”

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