Minnesota RTs Welcome Military Therapists During COVID-19 Surge

 Published: December 9, 2021

By: Debbie Bunch



The latest COVID-19 surge in Minnesota is stretching hospitals to their limits, but several are getting some much-needed help from the U.S. military. As of Dec. 2, CentraCare St. Cloud Hospital in St. Cloud, Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, and Covenant Healthcare in Saginaw have welcomed military physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists into their ranks. In addition to Minnesota, military teams–complete with respiratory therapists–have been sent to hospitals in Michigan, New Mexico, Montana, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah.

We spoke with Peggy Lange, RRT, director of respiratory care at St. Cloud, to find out more.

What were some of the factors that went into your hospital’s decision to seek military help during this latest surge in Minnesota?

CentraCare is the largest health care provider in central and west central Minnesota, which includes St. Cloud Hospital. As of Dec. 3, our latest COVID surge has shown a community positivity rate of 19.6%. Our ventilator management work has more than doubled.

With the increase comes more blood gas analyses, medication orders, possible transports, and heated high flow oxygen use. We have many patients under age 50 on ventilators, and that means more time spent on frequent repositioning or proning protocols. Our critical care beds are often at capacity.

Like most hospitals in the country, we have also lost respiratory therapists to the pandemic. The reasons are the same too. Some to furlough from illness, some to retirements, some to reducing hours due to the need for time away for recovery and resilience, some to traveling assignments, and some to leaving health care altogether.

We all want to achieve our normal staffing ratios and use best practices for patients. Throughout the pandemic, we have been fortunate to partner with our CRNA team to better manage the workload day to day, but we felt more help was needed to continue to deliver the best care to our patients.


When and how was the decision made to bring in the troops, and how did you integrate the military RTs into the care delivery teams in your hospital and department?

Due to many reasons, some listed above, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made a request to the federal Department of Health and Human Services for assistance, requesting teams from the Department of Defense (DoD) to come in and help with staffing.

The Minnesota Department of Health worked with the DoD to provide us with the official application for our site. CentraCare completed the application, and then we were granted an interview with the DoD to ensure we had already done everything possible to manage the surge.

CentraCare received approval for a team on Wed., Nov. 16. The survey team, who would help with logistics, arrived on Mon., Nov. 22. The team of 23 health care professionals from the U.S. Air Force arrived in Minnesota on Fri., Nov. 26, the day after Thanksgiving. The DoD team trained at St. Cloud Hospital all day Saturday, shadowed CentraCare staff on Sunday, and then were assigned orientation shifts.

Tell us a little about the RTs assigned to the team and how they are helping your staff cope with the crisis.

We have found the two military respiratory technicians to be very professional and knowledgeable. They asked appropriate questions while listening and gathering information. We believe they were excited to see and participate in patient care during this crisis time.

Even though they have only been here a short time, their energy, and the entire military team’s overwhelming attitude of “We are here to help,” has brought quite a bit of renewed positive energy to our staff. The technicians have readily accepted assignments to our adult critical care areas and schedules. They bring a combined 15 years of respiratory practice to our team. Their knowledge of current ventilators and therapies made the orientation process go smoothly.

What do you want your fellow RTs to know about the value that these military therapists are adding to your hospital in this time of great need?

The respiratory technicians came in with new eyes and new attitudes — and are excellent examples for the many who are tired and who have worked so hard these past two years. These technicians will have new experiences to take back to their base when this mission is complete.

We are grateful for their presence and assistance. They are hands and hearts together with our respiratory therapists.

Email newsroom@aarc.org with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Debbie Bunch

Debbie Bunch is an AARC contributor who writes feature articles, news stories, and other content for Newsroom, the AARC website, and associated emailed newsletters. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling, photography, and spending time with her children and grandchildren. Connect with Debbie by email or on AARConnect or LinkedIn.

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