This is National COPD Awareness Month, and respiratory therapists across the nation are stepping outside of their facilities to shine a spotlight on the disease.
AARC members Scott Cerreta, BS, RRT, and Corin Walters, MSHE, RRT, AE-C, got actively involved in efforts taking place in their state a few years ago when Arizona decided to create a new group aimed at addressing the needs of people with COPD and other chronic lung conditions.
The effort was dubbed “Breathe Easy Arizona” and it was a joint project between the state department of health and the American Lung Association (ALA) of Arizona. As a long-time ALA volunteer, Cerreta felt like he was made for the job.
“One of our important initiatives is to develop a state-wide tracking system to measure the burden of COPD which can be reported by health care systems,” Cerreta said. “This data allows the state to monitor changes and occurrences of COPD hospital admissions throughout the entire state.”
He believes the tracking system is giving the state a better idea of where people with COPD live so that other health programs and the state-funded tobacco quit line can be leveraged to assist them.
Walters also got involved via her previous association with the ALA and says she mainly directed her energies toward infrastructure for the organization and its website.
“We worked on everything from logo and website design to what the different tiers of involvement would look like for those interested in being a part of the coalition,” she says. “The website provides a wealth of information and this was a big part of our focus.”
They also identified five advisory groups that would be necessary to assist with the needs of those they were trying to serve: research/data, marketing/communications, health education, funds/resource development, and policy/advocacy.
The right background
Both therapists believe their background in respiratory care added significant value to the Breathe Easy efforts.
“As a respiratory therapist I possess the knowledge and skills that represent the target audience, individuals living with COPD,” Cerreta said. “RTs bridge the gap with helping researchers and public health officials understand the issues faced by the group of people they are targeting through their state-funded health initiatives.”
Walters agrees. “Respiratory therapists have a unique perspective in regard to the needs of those with respiratory conditions. We know that there is more to treatment than just taking a medication — resources and education are vital to improving the lives of those living with chronic respiratory disease,” she said.
Since she no longer practices respiratory care at the bedside (she’s now at Publicis Touchpoint Solutions representing AstraZeneca), she says getting involved with the coalition was a great way for her to show her ongoing support for patients.
“I am passionate about disease education; to be able to be involved in the Breathe Easy Arizona Coalition gave me an opportunity to give back to the community and work with other talented individuals for a cause that I care deeply about,” Walters said.
Cerreta, who currently serves as cardiopulmonary manager at Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation in Flagstaff, AZ, says his work with this and other ALA initiatives has connected him with hundreds of professionals he otherwise would never have met and it has also helped him develop several asthma and COPD educational programs.
“I can honestly say that the volunteer work I perform as a respiratory therapist has changed lives and this level of career satisfaction fuels my passion to make a difference for others too,” he said.
Rewards are many
Cerreta and Walters believe Breathe Easy Arizona has boosted COPD awareness and action in their state and they encourage other therapists to seek out similar opportunities in their parts of the country.
“Take on additional projects with your employer or seek out volunteer opportunities elsewhere,” Cerreta said. “You will likely find the same rewards that make me proud to be a respiratory therapist.”
“Respiratory therapists need to lead the way because our patients need care that extends further than a physician’s office or hospital room,” Walters said. “Organizations such as Breathe Easy Arizona can make a difference by providing the resources that are necessary for individuals in a one-stop-shop site that is specific to a patient’s location.”