Hospitals running out of therapists in charge of COVID-19 ventilators

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Posted at 7:21 PM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 20:21:20-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Some of our Middle Tennessee hospitals are having a tough time finding enough people to monitor ventilators in the ICU.

They’re some of the least talked about, but most valued specialists in the fight against COVID-19. As it turns out, they’re some of the most in-demand as well.

Craig Rooks, the administrative director for the Respiratory Care Unit at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, has watched the mass exodus of respiratory therapists that may have an impact we all notice.

"Our respiratory department has covered approximately a 30% increase in workload specifically related to respiratory care," Rooks said.

These are the same people in charge of the breathing machines or ventilators at a time where one of the leading symptoms of COVID-19 is shortness of breath.

That means oftentimes they’re the last people who see you in your final moments. Between the emotional stress and the grueling hours, hospitals including Vanderbilt are offering sign-on bonuses and kickbacks for employee referrals. The trouble has been trying to convince potential employees when the reality is they will have to deal with a “significant workload” than they may be used to.

Rooks has about 95 therapists in his department when he needs 65 more. He says they’ve managed by cross-training nurses to handle both jobs and paying those incentives.

It’s hard work, but when it comes down to it, Rooks knows people will step up when they’re needed most.

“We’re going to have the right people here to take care of you,” Rooks said.