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Central Coast respiratory therapists reflect on crucial work during COVID-19 pandemic

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. – Brandy Bailey has been a respiratory therapist for almost ten years.

“I believe what we do is not really in the light for the public mostly and during COVID-19 it brought it forward,” said Bailey. “So more people are questioning what respiratory therapists do.”

Respiratory care practitioners examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. 

“We manage ventilators, we give breathing treatments, we provide oxygen, we assist in births, we respond to every emergency in the hospital,” said Bailey.

When COVID-19 first hit, Bailey said it threw her off guard, as she and other respiratory care practitioners worked non-stop, trying to keep hospitalized patients alive. 

The respiratory therapist said she saw patients at Lompoc Valley Medical Center who had really low oxygen levels. 

“The biggest thing with COVID-19 is trying to keep people oxygenated,” Bailey. “Their work is very high, so we have to try to bring the work of breathing down.”

Doctors said respiratory therapists played a major role in the fight against COVID-19.

“Respiratory care practitioners on the front line, we are part of the trio: doctors, nurses and respiratory care practitioners to help people keep breathing,” said Tenet Health Central Coast Director of Cardiopulmonary Respiratory Services Stephen Szabo.

Szabo is also assisting with sick COVID patients.

At one point there was a shortage of ventilators, so Szabo said they had to get creative. 

“New ways to use non-invasive ventilation, which would be not a tube down your throat but a specialized mask fitting on your face,” said Szabo. “So there were all these challenges that we overcame to help keep our community alive.”

Emotionally, both respiratory therapists say the pandemic took a toll.

“You come in and you’re just working, working, working and when that died down for a moment before that next wave hit, it gave people the chance to sit back and go, ‘woah, what did we just go through?’" said Bailey.

“They were touched by some of these patients, they worked so hard to keep them alive and sadly some passed. And that takes its toll because we are all humans,” Szabo.

But despite the obstacles they are going through during the pandemic, both workers said their job is rewarding because their role in hospitals is crucial. 

“I love being a respiratory therapist,” said Bailey. “I'm actually grateful that I never would have thought about it, even working at the hospital.”

Article Topic Follows: Health

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Karen Cruz-Orduña

Karen Cruz-Orduña is a reporter for News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Karen, click here.


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