Breathing Easier At Home

  • Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • June 3, 2009 - 11:56 AM

Most respiratory care practitioners who specialize in home care are employed by home medical equipment companies, according to Loren Johnson, manager of the Clinical Services Department at Allina Home and Community Services. His division provides a range of equipment to people at home and in nursing homes and skilled care facilities: Respirators, oxygen, nebulizers and continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. The respiratory therapist works with the patient to get the equipment properly set up and, in some cases, makes follow-up visits to monitor progress.

The most complex medical cases involve respirators, Johnson says. Patients may need machines to breathe for them because they have suffered a spinal cord injury or because they are in the late stages of ALS. Often, these patients are in a special wing of a nursing home. In some cases, however, younger patients want to live in their own homes with personal care attendants.

Respirators, CPAPs, Nebulizers

"When you have patient on a respirator, nine times out of 10 there is more equipment than that," Johnson says. Patients on respirators might also need a tracheal suction machine. They might be on oxygen. Often there is a humidity system that moisturizes and heats the air going into their lungs.

Respiratory Care Practitioners also set up apnea monitors for infants who lost siblings to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or who were born prematurely, with underdeveloped lungs.

A two-year program is currently required to become a registered respiratory therapist in Minnesota, Johnson says. There is a strong move to require a four-year degree.

Johnson says that respiratory technicians are now doing many of the simpler tasks formerly performed by registered respiratory therapists. Those tasks include setting up home oxygen equipment or nebulizers for patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Two of the registered respiratory therapists on Johnson's staff started as technicians and worked while completing their two-year programs.

Stay On Task

Specializing in home care, rather than working in a hospital setting, requires self-discipline and good time management, Johnson says. Most days, the RRT will see four or five patients, who may be spread out across the city. "You have to be somebody who can work on your own and stay on task," Johnson says. "You have to keep it professional and get the job done."

The economy has impacted RRTs just like every other career, Johnson says. Still, experienced respiratory therapists are highly employable. "My best RRT could go to another home care agency and get a job tomorrow," he says.

Johnson is an alumnus of St. Paul College, which he says has an excellent respiratory therapy program. For more information, visit

Laura French is principal of Words Into Action, Inc., and is a freelance writer from Roseville.

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