Braving the front lines: Respiratory therapists play critical role against COVID-19

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Respiratory therapists play a critical role in the battle against COVID-19. Right now, not only is the nation facing a shortage of ventilators, but also those who operate them.

COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory related illness that can seriously impact a person's ability to breathe. That's why respiratory therapists find themselves taking this head on and are in high demand.

Brian Faix is the manager for respiratory therapy at the Alaska Native Medical Center, and the president of the Alaska Society for Respiratory Care. He says currently there are about 170 respiratory therapists in the state.

"In Alaska, our (COVID-19) numbers are relatively low compared to places in the lower 48. So everyday the information that's being released, we try to keep up on what's happening in places like New York that are seeing high influx of patients, and we're trying to learn from their lessons, and information that they're providing so that we can better prepare on our end."

Faix says Alaska is considered below the national average when it comes to the respiratory therapist shortage. He says since there are no brick and mortar respiratory therapist schools in the state, hospitals rely on staffing positions from the Lower 48, which poses a challenge for filling open positions.

The good news is that so far, Faix says Alaska has about 300 available ventilators, with a very small percentage of them currently in use.

"So I feel like we are prepared," said Faix. "It's just kind of waiting to see what happens with the influx of patients and how that evolves. The number of critical patients that we've had so far in the state has actually been very low to this point."

Faix says area hospitals all have plans in place to address a possible influx in patients. Respiratory therapists, along with others braving the front lines, are taking extra precautions for safety. He says while anxiety levels may be high, the urge to back down is low.

"It's always very difficult to see a patient who is suffering and not able to breathe, but at the same token, that's why a lot of us got into this profession - to be able to help those patients and to be able to provide that level of care at the bedside and support in their time of need," said Faix.

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