Meet the Team: Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory Therapy team

In 12-hour shifts, every day of the week, the Respiratory Therapy team works to help everyone at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center breathe a little easier.

“They’re very collegial, very cool under pressure, very experienced,” says Timothy Quinn, MD, Chief of Critical Care in the departments of Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology. “It’s a good group to work with.”

The team of 24 people has faced extra challenges during COVID-19. They are on the front line, assisting anesthesiologists and intensivists when COVID-19-positive patients need to be intubated.

“Things were taken to another level of intensity, and it was very stressful,” says Respiratory Therapist James Lobosco. “There was more equipment to use, pre-screenings before we came in the door, constant screening, constant contact and a lot of precautions. Now it’s part of our normal day.”  

“The risks associated with COVID go up if you need to be intubated,” Dr. Quinn says. “If a patient was negative for COVID, the respiratory therapy team would keep them on oxygen a little longer. We try to maintain those patients with just oxygen outside the ICU instead of intubating them to keep their risk of contracting COVID lower. The team has been invaluable during this time.”

Some people might immediately think of respiratory therapists as being present in an emergency room, but that’s only a small fraction of their work.

“We screen patients before surgery, and we do consultation with them when they need medications,” Lobosco says. “When patients need therapies, we work along with physicians to speed up the patient's recovery process. We’re bedside, we’re patient-side, we’re nurse-side.”

“They help us with all the intubations; any time we have to do a breathing tube, they’re with us,” Dr. Quinn says. “They’re responsible for having all the equipment ready and available and to assist with the act of intubation. They help anyone who has any sort of respiratory need, anyone who requires oxygen, nebulizer treatments, especially if a patient has a preexisting lung issue like COPD or asthma.”

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The respiratory therapy team is always present in the hospital, working closely with patients and doctors alike to ensure that a patient is breathing as well as possible, according to Dr. Quinn.  

“They’re kind of everywhere. They support the ICU, they support the anesthesiologists and the post-anesthesia care unit, they respond to rapid responses and code blues. They help support all the different patients we see.”

Averaging 10,000 steps per day during their shifts, the Respiratory Therapy team covers a lot of ground, with each therapist seeing about 20-30 patients per day, every day, throughout the hospital.

“Not everything we do can be seen; much happens behind the scenes that is equally important to both inpatient and outpatient continuous care,” says Al Swiatkowski, the Supervising Respiratory Therapist.