Braving the front lines: meet HCA Healthcare’s respiratory therapists

Marlana Paulino, wearing scrubs and a protective face mask, standing in front of a closet full of medical equipment

During COVID-19, respiratory therapists play a vital role on the interdisciplinary team that is racing to save lives around the world. Read on to hear from a few of our heroic respiratory therapists (RTs).

Seven medical professionals wearing scrubs and protective face masks indoors surrounded by medical equipment, and holding up a sign that says "hero pronounce /hee-ro/ [noun] 1 our frontline healthcare heroes who show up to keep our communities healthy and safe 2 you. Medical City Healthcare.
Respiratory therapists at Medical City Plano (Plano, Texas)

Just like doctors and nurses, HCA Healthcare’s respiratory therapists (RTs) are playing a crucial role in the fight against COVID-19. One symptom of the novel coronavirus is shortness of breath, and it can lead to respiratory issues like pneumonia and decreased oxygen levels. This is where respiratory therapists come into play.

RTs are specialized in their knowledge of cardiopulmonary assessment, evaluation, treatment, management and care of patients with respiratory problems. They test lung capacity and oxygen levels, develop treatment plans, set up and monitor ventilators that deliver oxygen to the lungs and more.

As Joan Norell of Westside Regional Medical Center explains, “We help our patients breathe easier. It sounds simple, but without breathing, there is no living.”

Mission Hospital’s chief executive officer, Chad Patrick, also understands what RTs are currently facing, having been a respiratory therapist during the HIV and multidrug resistant tuberculosis crisis of the mid-90s. He encourages today’s RTs to rely on their training and experience as they confront this pandemic. “I am so proud of the extraordinary efforts by our staff, including our respiratory therapists, to care for and protect our patients and each other,” Patrick says.We appreciate all of HCA Healthcare’s amazing respiratory therapists and their hard work and commitment to providing care like no other at all times, but especially now. We are honored to highlight some of these healthcare heroes here.

Terri Billings, Redmond Regional Medical Center (Rome, Ga.)

“In my 38 years as a respiratory therapist, I’ve never experienced anything like COVID-19 and the impact it’s having on our community,” Terri says. But just like HCA Healthcare colleagues around the country, the team at Redmond Regional Medical Center continues to deliver superior, patient-centered care.

“I’m so proud of our fantastic team of respiratory therapists and the work they are doing every day on the frontlines to make a difference in the lives of the patients we serve.”

Four medical professionals wearing scrubs, protective face masks and face shields
Terri Billings (bottom right), respiratory therapist at Redmond Regional Medical Center

Kevin Haney, Mission Hospital (Asheville, N.C.)

While this is an unprecedented moment for today’s healthcare workers, Kevin is confident in his team and their planning at Mission Hospital, where he has worked for nearly 15 years.

“We have a good crew and team,” Kevin says. “We have a lot of safeguards in place, procedures and protocols so that when we have a patient who is suspected of having the virus, we’re extra cautious going into the room and doing what we need to do to take care of them and take care of ourselves.”

Kevin is also thankful for the public surrounding the Asheville, N.C., hospital.

“Our communities are very supportive. We see it in the papers and from letters that they’re supporting all the healthcare workers here, which is a great thing. I think folks realize that we’re on the frontlines and it’s a hard job.”

Kevin Haney wearing scrubs, standing and looking at a medical equipment monitor
Kevin Haney, respiratory therapist at Mission Hospital

Joan Norell, Westside Regional Medical Center (Plantation, Fla.)

While the importance of RTs has not changed, Joan, a respiratory therapist for 45 years, says the COVID-19 pandemic has changed some things.

“We are on the frontlines and in the ER fighting this battle alongside the nurses and doctors. We are a part of the code blues and rapid responses. Anyone that walks into our ER at this point, we need to be ready for.”

And the team at Westside Regional Medical Center is ready.

“I feel very confident in our team here at Westside. We are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We need to trust each other, because without trust this wouldn’t be possible. We have one teammate who could be sitting in an isolation room with a positive patient and a ventilator, while the other teammate is preparing for the next patient. We need to trust that we will each do our part.”

Joan says the work is rewarding, but she also admits that it’s scary.

“We all have someone we are coming home to in the end of the day. My twin sister has asthma, my brother has sarcoidosis and my husband of 37 years has COPD. Being a respiratory therapist, I know how dangerous it could be if one of them were to catch the coronavirus. I have to be extremely careful every time I come home. Yes, it’s scary, but this is what I signed up for 45 years ago and it’s all I’ve ever known.

Every time I care for a patient, I care for them as if they were my husband, brother or sister. Although I really need to be careful for myself and those around me, I would never abandon my patients. They need us now more than ever. So I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I’m going to be smart and safe. That’s all any of us can do right now.”

Joan Norell, wearing scrubs and a protective face mask, standing next to medical equipment
Joan Norell, respiratory therapist at Westside Regional Medical Center

Tiffany Wimberly, Fairview Park Hospital (Dublin, Ga.)

Tiffany is proud to be a respiratory therapist and work with the team at Fairview Park Hospital. When she visits her patients, Tiffany says she checks their ventilator repeatedly because it’s “so essential to their care.” She also makes sure to take a moment to reflect.

“Before I walk into each of my patients’ rooms, I pause and I think of my family,” Tiffany says. “I think about protecting my family and myself, but even more so, I think about the patient on the other side of the glass. I think about how alone and scared they must be, and that pains me greatly. How each of them is a son, a daughter, a sister or a husband. I care deeply for these patients and know that they rely on me to care for them.”

Tiffany Wimberly wearing personal protective equipment and clothing over her scrubs, standing behind a glass door
Tiffany Wimberly, respiratory therapist at Fairview Park Hospital

Marlana Paulino, Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center (Las Vegas, Nev.)

Just like our other respiratory therapists, Marlana is vital to the fight against COVID-19. Though it’s something none of them have dealt with before, Marlana is confident in herself and her team because they always practice safety protocols and good hand hygiene. Her motivation is her husband and two kids at home.

“It can be a scary time but my family is so proud of me,” Marlana says. “My family knows that every day I am making a difference for the hospital, for the community and for the world. It’s a really good feeling.”

Marlana Paulino, wearing scrubs and a protective face mask, standing in front of a closet full of medical equipment
Marlana Paulino, respiratory therapist at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center

About HCA Healthcare

HCA Healthcare, one of the nation's leading providers of healthcare services, is comprised of 183 hospitals and more than 2,300 sites of care, in 20 states and the United Kingdom. Our more than 283,000 colleagues are connected by a single purpose — to give patients healthier tomorrows.

As an enterprise, we recognize the significant responsibility we have as a leading healthcare provider within each of the communities we serve, as well as the opportunity we have to improve the lives of the patients for whom we are entrusted to care. Through the compassion, knowledge and skill of our caregivers, and our ability to leverage our scale and innovative capabilities, HCA Healthcare is in a unique position to play a leading role in the transformation of care.

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