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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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KMC seeks candidates for life-saving positions

Respiratory therapist Jean Schneider jokes with patient Ann Lamare after giving her a treatment Thursday at Kootenai Medical Center. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Respiratory therapist Jean Schneider jokes with patient Ann Lamare after giving her a treatment Thursday at Kootenai Medical Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Patients at Kootenai Medical Center are getting more specialized care since the hospital opened its Heart Center nearly two years ago. Job opportunities are the result.

The hospital needs respiratory therapists and needs them soon, said Mike Blee, KMC’s director of cardio-pulmonary services. He’s seeking applicants now for four new respiratory therapist positions.

Until Kootenai’s Heart Center opened, people typically scheduled heart surgery in Spokane.

“We’re full-service now. Few patients pass us by anymore. There’s no reason to,” Blee said. “Open-heart patients go on a ventilator. Respiratory therapists are the people who manage those.”

In addition to managing and maintaining patients on ventilators, respiratory therapists perform cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and administer treatments that help people breathe. They’re in such demand nationwide that training programs can’t meet the need. Kootenai Medical Center’s cry for respiratory therapists is echoed by hospitals coast to coast, and “shortage” is a word often connected with the field.

“There are jobs everywhere,” said Cal Kary, chairman of the counseling department at Spokane Community College. “Employment is excellent for our graduates, but they may need to leave the area.”

Spokane Community College graduates about 26 new respiratory therapists every year. Its two-year, on-site program is rare. Most programs in the Inland Northwest are offered through online schools. SCC keeps Sacred Heart and Deaconess medical centers in Spokane supplied with respiratory therapists, representatives of both hospitals said.

The SCC program that prepares students for certification through the National Board of Respiratory Care costs about $6,000 for tuition, books, uniforms and supplies. Respiratory therapist salaries start at about $36,250. The field offers two-year and four-year degrees. Blee said most respiratory therapists at Kootenai have two-year degrees.

Blee believes fewer people are choosing health care fields for their careers. The work is hard and often doesn’t pay well, he said. The growth in the oldest population, which typically needs the most critical care, magnifies the respiratory therapist shortage.

But the job offers immediate employment and plenty of drama.

“It’s an exciting job, challenging and rewarding,” Blee said. “There are a lot of life-saving activities. Respiratory therapists go to all traumas, do resuscitation, CPR.”

Kootenai Medical Center has 23 respiratory therapists, many of whom graduated from SCC’s program. They earn from $18 an hour to $28 an hour. Blee has no worries he’ll fill the four new positions he created.

“We’re fortunate. Coeur d’Alene is such a desirable place to live,” Blee said. “We have a fairly steady stream of qualified applicants.”

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