By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
If ever a group of healthcare workers deserved to be celebrated, it’s respiratory therapists.
They have been in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 20 months now, along with their fellow clinicians, caring for desperately ill patients at a time when the disease was (and still is) a deadly mystery.
That’s why marking Respiratory Care Week this week at Riley Hospital for Children is a big deal. There are lunches and dinners and snacks, of course, provided by physicians and nurses from different units. There are games, prizes, a photo booth, silent auction and shout-outs posted along the wall leading to the RT offices.
Diana Meadors has been a respiratory therapist at Riley for 17 years, the past 13 on the pediatric intensive care unit. She has been in a clinical specialist role, educating and training team members while also providing patient care, since 2010.
Before that, she worked with adults as an RT in Lafayette for 20 years.
Kids, she said, are way better.
“That’s my love,” Meadors said. “I didn’t know that until I started working at Riley. I came here because I needed to work days for my home life, but I found I really love working with the kids.”
Meadors, who with her wife, Lisa, has four kids and two grandkids, said COVID and other respiratory ailments have hit pediatric patients hard over the past few months.
“We’ve been busier than ever and not just with COVID. Other viruses have escalated since mask mandates have fallen away,” she said.
And kids, especially teens, who’ve had COVID have been very sick.
“It’s a long haul. It takes a toll on them and their families.”
But pediatric patients are tough, Meadors added. They take what’s thrown at them and they don’t complain.
“I worked with adults for a long time, and they would complain about their therapy when you’re just trying to get them better. Kids don’t do that.”
Amanda Worthington is also an acute care clinical specialist at Riley and co-chairs the Aspire committee, which has planned this week’s activities.
The notes from nurses and other team members that are posted in the hallway of the RT offices are a reminder to the team why they do what they do.
“Thank you for all that you do! You guys are amazing! We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you,” one Riley colleague wrote.
“Love seeing your cheerful face! I always learn something new when you’re working. Thank you for spreading your knowledge and always being in good spirits. You rock,” another nurse wrote.
Worthington kept one note she received previously from a nurse she worked with in the emergency department: “Our RTs are the best ever. They are such team players, and they are always willing to educate myself and others. … They are always willing to joke around with me when time allows and always have my back no matter what.”
In light of the last year, notes like that mean so much, Worthington said.
“We are drained. Our acuity is high, our staffing is low, but we still give everything we’ve got to take care of our patients and also our co-workers, our nurses and docs. We do try to be there and support them, like they do for us.”
The Aspire committee helps raise money throughout the year to plan these special events, as well as supporting asthma camp, working with the Riley Food Pantry for a Thanksgiving food drive and adopting a family to shop for during the holidays.
For Meadors, the recognition is appreciated, even if she doesn’t care for the spotlight.
“I like to be behind the scenes,” she said. “But it’s nice when the leadership and physicians and nurses show appreciation for us and what we do. I feel they do appreciate us at Riley. We see that on a daily basis.”