Retired respiratory therapists coming back to work amid coronavirus crisis

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Some retired healthcare workers are coming back to work to be on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

The North Carolina Respiratory Care Board said it has processed nearly 100 applications of respiratory therapists who want to return to their jobs.

These therapists run the mechanical ventilators, which have been much talked about across the country.

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The American Hospital Association estimates more than 950,000 Americans could need mechanical help to breathe during the pandemic.

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"The therapists have a really tough job because -- as I explained to someone the other day -- they're in the intimate and personal space of a patient as the patient is breathing in and out of medication and that puts them at risk," said Dr. Bill Croft, executive director of the board.

The board waived requirements for continuing education. It also waived those requirements for people on inactive status. In addition, they've dropped the $75 late renewal fee of any license.

"As long as we can verify that they have an active credential, we can go ahead and issue the license assuming that they are meeting all the other criteria," Dr. Croft said.

A ventilator helps get oxygen into the lungs and takes the carbon dioxide out. COVID-19 makes this more difficult because in severe cases, a patient's lungs are inflamed and filled with fluid.

Dr. Croft said the experienced therapists are welcome back for a number of reasons.

"We've dealt with this all of our careers and they have that institutional knowledge," Dr Croft said. "They can use some of what I'd call primitive ventilators because they were trained on them whereas some of the newer folks really haven't been."

The board also approved about half of the 90 students who applied for a license Monday. Those people will have to practice under a trained respiratory therapist to start.

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