Misericordia hospital expands respiratory care during COVID-19

Physical therapist Ciaran O’Flynn never imagined he would be providing respiratory care to patients at the Misericordia Community Hospital.

But when the hospital team saw a surge of COVID-19 patients during the second wave of the pandemic, Ciaran and six other physical therapists were trained to support respiratory therapists so they could serve the increasing numbers of patients. 

“I don’t think any of us expected to be the go-to people for some patients during the pandemic. But we got the training, so there was no reason we couldn’t,” says Ciaran.

Reassigned physical therapists primarily see non-critical patients in the medicine and surgical units, as well as COVID-positive patients, so that respiratory therapists are able to care for more critically ill and high-acuity COVID-19 patients. Ciaran, who focused on acute care and previously worked in the intensive care unit, saw COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. 

The collaboration between physical therapists and respiratory therapists began when numbers started to grow during the second wave of the pandemic.  

Sarah Arsenault is the physiotherapy professional practice lead who helped develop the education for Ciaran and his colleagues. She says oxygen management is within the scope of practice for a physical therapist; however, in many acute care sites, respiratory therapists primarily fulfill this role.

Sarah says the physical therapists adapted well to their new role. “They did amazing. The patients were getting the care they needed, and they also helped out the team.”

Ciaran says he became comfortable with the day-to-day expectations of the role within a few shifts. “If we were at a spot that we weren’t totally comfortable with, we would page the respiratory therapists, and they would come up and help us right away.”

Tanya Steinburg, a respiratory therapy clinical lead, says the support from rehabilitation services has been very meaningful, especially since they were the ones who initiated the idea.   

“It’s truly amazing that they did this for us. With the opportunity to utilize the physical therapists' full scope of practice, we’ve been able to ensure safe, quality patient care during the pandemic.”

Tanya says therapy assistants have also been an invaluable part of this collaboration since they help support respiratory therapists with inventory and restocking. “They were amazing as well. They helped us with exchanging the oxygen tanks and stocking all of our equipment on each of the floors so we could focus on the patient.”

Since the province entered the third wave of the pandemic, a few other physical therapists have been reassigned. Ciaran is now the team lead for the physical therapy team. While he isn’t seeing as many patients as he did in the second wave, he says what has resonated with him is an appreciation for what respiratory therapists do every day. “They work under a lot of pressure every time and to get a taste of what they go through, it was a pretty amazing experience.”

He adds that being able to provide much-needed support during this challenging time has been very fulfilling. “We want to help out our colleagues in any way we can, and at that point, the respiratory needs were higher than the rehabilitation needs. It was very satisfying knowing that we played a part in something that was a very big event in the hospital, and it was gratifying to get things right.”

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