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Respiratory Therapists: Fighting on the Frontlines of COVID-19

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Author name: Lee Health


“The hardest part throughout this pandemic has been hearing the community expressing our patients as numbers and not as people,” said Nicolette Moran, respiratory therapist. “Everyone is somebody’s everything.”

thumbnailRT-1.jpgEvery shift looks different from the one before. 

Today, it’s only 11 a.m., and Nicolette has already seen several patients. One is possibly brain dead, and one is a COVID-19 positive patient in the intensive care unit.

When she finally steps away to take a much needed lunch break during her shift, you can see the deep marks in her skin from her N-95 mask. Those marks will remain long after her shift is over, a reminder of everything she has witnessed over the last nine months.

Nicolette is one of the many respiratory therapists at Lee Memorial Hospital. The team works in every nook and cranny of the hospital, and they serve critical roles are in the Intensive Care Unit, emergency department, post-op or anywhere else they are needed.

Each respiratory therapist goes through at least three N-95 masks a day, changing them out after rounds to keep themselves and their patients as safe as possible. That comes to about 60-70 N-95 masks per day just in this department alone. The team is constantly in close contact with COVID-19 patients, requiring them to utilize full PPE during every shift for their safety.

Not only are respiratory therapists critical members of the healthcare team when it comes to performing life saving treatments and procedures, but throughout the pandemic, they have added a new responsibility to their daily routines - acting as a support system to patients facing their most difficult, and sometimes last, moments.

RT3.jpg“The team takes pride in being patient advocates and being there for our patients,” said Natasha Knapp, Lead Respiratory Therapist. “We are their family while they’re here. We have to be attentive to their needs as human beings, because that’s what they are, they are not just a room number or a statistic to us.”

Throughout the last nine months our respiratory therapists have relayed messages to patients from their families, held the phone for patients too weak to do it themselves as they Facetimed loved ones, and held the hand of patients taking their last breath.

They have become like family to each of their patients as they have navigated through this pandemic together.

They have overcome every obstacle throughout this journey, and they have truly shown what it means to be exceptional in every aspect of their jobs.

“These folks are the best,” said Bill Higginbotham, day shift supervisor. “They are totally awesome. They come in the morning and hit the floor running. I joke with them a lot, we are a second family. We spend so much time together, and we are all so cohesive.”

The team relies heavily on one another. Since every day looks so different from the one before, team members often reach out to check-in or share words of encouragement: notes with inspiring quotes, colorful pictures for breakrooms, and other reminders of the amazing things they do. 

RT5.jpgAt Lee Health, we are so thankful for the work of each member of the healthcare team, especially over the last nine months as we have navigated the unknowns of COVID-19.

Every person within our system has worked tirelessly and selflessly for the health and safety of our community throughout this pandemic, and it does not go unnoticed.

If you would like to highlight the incredible work of your department, please email Alyssa Young at [email protected] for more information.

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