WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Labor shortages are hitting all corners of the medical field, including respiratory therapy.

Respiratory therapy itself is the specialty in medicine that focuses on a person’s ability to breathe, a practice that took priority during the pandemic.

SUNY Upstate Medical University Department of Respiratory Education Chair Stephen Feikes was working in hospitals for most of the pandemic.

He said while patients were being sustained by ventilators, respiratory therapists were the ones operating the life-saving equipment.

“The COVID pandemic turned medical care upside down. We were certainly in the center of it,” Feikes said. “Respiratory therapists were in there trying to figure it out along with the doctors as to exactly how do you manage these patients. How do you manage their breathing? How do you manage their uncontrollable hunger for air?”

But now as communities recover from the pandemic, they are faced with more illnesses as more patients are being hospitalized with the flu and RSV.

Because these viruses, along with COVID-19, often present respiratory complications, RTs are again at the forefront of the issue.

However, Samaritan Medical Center Respiratory Therapy Manager Lindsay Bickel explained that the area is struggling with a shortage of these professionals.

“It is very difficult to field a team right now,” Bickel said. “We have had a lot of critical patients. And with a lot of critical patients, they take a lot of your time out of your shifts. So we need to have enough respiratory therapists to make sure every patient is being taken of the best that they can.”

The shortage is starting at the student level Feikes pushed, which is why he, Bickel and other respiratory therapists are teaming up to try and recruit both new hires and prospective students.

“We don’t have enough people applying to programs to become respiratory therapists,” Feikes shared. “So it’s really something we need to do, to get out there, spread the word on what respiratory therapy is, and to show people that this really is a solid career.”

“A lot of people are burnt out,” Bickel added. “So it’s really important that we recruit and get these respiratory therapists into the facilities again. Because we need them.”

More information on the respiratory therapy field and programs can be found on the Upstate Medical University website.