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Respiratory therapy grads join Saskatchewan front line during coronavirus pandemic

Respiratory therapy grads join Saskatchewan front line during coronavirus pandemic
WATCH: Third-year students from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology were already in clinical training when the coronavirus pandemic came to Saskatchewan. Now, they're working professionally on the front lines.

While the province waits on an order of additional ventilators, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has already hired more respiratory therapists to operate the life-saving equipment during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Mark Herzog, the manager of respiratory services in Regina, said he’s hired three graduates from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).

“They usually graduate in May and become available in May, but we’re actually going to start bringing them into the workforce in April,” he said.

“More hands on deck are great.”

READ MORE: What is a ventilator, and why do some coronavirus patients need one?

Respiratory therapists help manage a patient’s breathing using a variety of techniques and devices suited to the need.

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“If you’re having a hard time breathing and you might not need the full meal deal — a ventilator — we can do things with high-flow oxygen,” Herzog said.

“There’s also things called non-invasive ventilators, kind of like partial breathing support where we put a mask over your face.”

Herzog said many of the province’s respiratory therapists studied at the University of Manitoba or the SAIT program, which has an interprovincial agreement with Saskatchewan.

“We’re running towards the pandemic, we’re not running from it.”

Meena Kumar, academic chair for the life sciences portfolio at SAIT, said the program moved up its 2020 graduation by one week to get graduates out into the workforce.

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“These graduates, when they work in these clinical settings for a year, they really are prepared by the time they get there,” Kumar said.

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Each fall, SAIT takes up to 61 students for its respiratory therapy program, eight of which are brought in under the Saskatchewan pool.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — CAE signs deal with Ottawa to manufacture and supply 10,000 ventilators

“Four generally go to Regina and four generally go to Saskatoon,” Kumar said.

“They’re Saskatchewan residents … they go to Saskatchewan in their third year for their practicum and most get hired there.”

Kumar said this year’s graduates finished their final clinical requirements this week, and are now applying for licenses.

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Nova Scotia-developed ventilator built in under three weeks, awaits approval

Saskatchewan has already hired six of the eight students under the interprovincial agreement.

Kumar said while students certainly didn’t expect to graduate during a global pandemic, they were trained in safety protocol — an addition to the curriculum following the SARS outbreak in 2003.

“We have a patient centre at SAIT and in that we have, actually, an isolation room where we have someone in isolation and all these students learn to don and doff the personal protective equipment,” she said.

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SHA managing personnel, ventilation

Herzog, who is also involved with Saskatchewan’s pandemic planning, said there are currently 252 licensed respiratory therapists in the province.

He said Saskatchewan’s eight respiratory therapist departments have been working closely together to address demand with current resources.

“We’re looking at the equipment possible, and we’re matching it to patient need,” he said.

“It’s putting our skills to the test, but I do believe we’re up to the challenge and I feel good about the therapists that are working in the province.”

READ MORE: Regina Chinese community donates 380,000 medical gloves to health-care workers

Herzog said all ventilator equipment in Saskatchewan is catalogued in a database known as the “ventilator tracker.”

As of March 25, the SHA said it had 332 invasive ventilators and 118 non-invasive ventilators, plus another 1,383 ventilators on order — 862 invasive, 521 non-invasive.

“I feel pretty good with what we’ve got right now and to meeting our patient demand,” Herzog said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus pandemic puts Canada’s supply of ventilators in the spotlight

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.