Pandemic Challenges

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Disaster preparedness has always been an issue of concern for the AARC but it took on even greater importance after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Over the years the Association has worked with the federal government on a project to count the number of ventilators in the nation’s hospitals, recruit respiratory therapists to serve on the government’s Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, and train RTs on emergency use ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

Threats like anthrax, SARS, MERS, H1N1 influenza, and even Ebola have all been carefully monitored by the AARC for their potential impact on respiratory therapists and the patients they serve.

So when reports of a new virus with significant respiratory effects came out of China at the end of 2019, the Association put its wheels in motion and began following and assessing the situation.

When that virus reached our shores in early 2020 those efforts accelerated, and when, by March, it became clear this was the big one everyone had been fearfully waiting for, the AARC sprang into action on a number of fronts.

How do you treat this thing?

The most dire need for respiratory therapists and their colleagues charged with caring for the victims of COVID-19 was knowledge on how to effectively treat the disease, and the Association published some of the first research showing what worked and what didn’t in our science journal, RESPIRATORY CARE.

Educators within the AARC gathered that evidence and more and presented it during a Virtual Learning Event over four days in June focused solely on COVID-19. Topics covered during the event ranged from COVID-19 phenotypes, to the safe and effective delivery of aerosolized medication, to supply chain management during the pandemic, and more.

Online training on the SNS ventilators was stepped up as well, again in conjunction with government officials, and the Association joined other groups and organizations to put out guidance on managing patients with COVID-19, the danger of using one ventilator to ventilate multiple patients, and the folly in trying to quickly train nurses to manage mechanical ventilators in the absence of RTs.

Keeping RTs as safe as possible during the pandemic took priority at the AARC as well, with the Association issuing a joint statement with the American Heart Association (AHA) calling for strict adherence to protective measures.

Continued support

These efforts continued into 2021, as the Association teamed up with the Society for Critical Care Medicine to host a live webcast on ARDS and COVID-19 and called for critical care volunteers to provide telehealth support to patients with COVID-19 as part of a U.S. Army program.

Other joint efforts with outside groups and organizations included support for a proposal by CMS to expand the coverage of oxygen and oxygen equipment in the home during the pandemic and a statement supporting mandated vaccines. The AARC partnered with the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project to help educate and encourage the public to do their part in ending the COVID-19 pandemic too.

Former AARC President Brian Walsh, PhD, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, RPFT, AE-C, FAARC, represented respiratory therapists in the development of guidance by the AHA on the delivery of basic and advanced life support to adults, children, and neonates with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Mounting evidence showing some people afflicted with the virus go on to develop long-COVID has led the AARC to support the use of RTs to offer the therapies and support they will need to manage the condition, including pulmonary rehabilitation and respiratory disease management.

Media campaign and virtual events

A media campaign called #RTSTRONG launched in 2020 is continuing to let the world know how important therapists are in the fight against the virus, and the Association has established the AARC COVID RT Loss Fund to provide monetary support to families who lost a loved one working on the frontlines.

The AARC applauded the loosening of restrictions on telehealth during the pandemic too, and replaced its annual Capitol Hill Lobby Day in both 2020 and 2021 with virtual efforts to support the use of RTs in telehealth and advocate for making telehealth changes implemented during the pandemic permanent.

Virtual Summer Forums were held in 2020 and 2021 as well, along with virtual AARC Congresses.

Despite the challenges of pivoting to an online format, the meetings were well received and continued the Association’s long-standing tradition of delivering cutting edge education and research to respiratory therapists here in the U.S. and abroad.

We’re still on it

Despite continued waves of an ever-mutating virus, the COVID-19 vaccines, more effective treatments, and an overall lessening of the severity of the disease for most

people have eased the strain RTs feel on the pandemic frontlines. But the AARC is still working every day to keep up with the latest developments and how they should be addressed to keep RTs safe and their patients well cared for.

Research continues to be published in RESPIRATORY CARE on the latest evidence regarding COVID-19 and long-COVID, and AARC meetings and webcasts continue to address continuing and emerging areas of concern.

When joint efforts with the government or other organizations are in the best interests of our members and our patients, we are there to add the RT voice.

Respiratory therapists can rest assured their professional organization will be looking out for them and their patients as this pandemic continues to evolve, and will be ready to tackle any new threat that might come their way.

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