Date: Fri, Oct 30th, 2020

Great Falls College's respiratory therapy program loaning Benefis life-saving equipment amid pandemic

Brian Cayko, Great Falls College MSU respiratory therapy program director, prepares life-saving equipment to loan Benefis Health System during the recent COVID-19 spike across Montana and the nation.

GREAT FALLS, Mont. – Great Falls College MSU's respiratory therapy program is again loaning ventilators to Benefis Health System in reaction to a shortage of supplies and a spike in COVID-19 cases in Montana, program director Brian Cayko said.

The college loaned Benefis a pair of ventilators this spring when the virus first came to the state in anticipation of a need that didn't materialize until recently.

But with the spike across the nation and Montana that equipment became necessary in the last couple of weeks. The state reported a record 932 total confirmed cases on Thursday pushing the statewide total beyond 25,000 total cases, of which more than 9,000 are active.

"Benefis has been a partner with the respiratory program at the college for 35-plus years," Cayko said. "What we're doing is a small thing, just filling out some forms so that Benefis can use them. They did a lot of work and incurred considerable expense to get them to be patient-ready."

Great Falls College typically doesn't keep its ventilators up to patient-care standards since they are not used on humans in the college's simulated hospital in order to save a significant amount of money the school is able to pass on to students, Cayko said. Benefis paid for two ventilators to be brought into compliance in the spring, and the college is loaning the hospital additional equipment this fall.

Cayko also stressed that credentialed respiratory therapists and other medical professionals who are retired or are, like him, not working at the bedside anymore, can sign up at the FEMA site to be called into action should it become necessary.

"It's our duty as medically trained professionals," he said.

The crisis has highlighted the need for respiratory therapists as they are the ones who hook up patients to the ventilators and monitor them around the clock. Cayko appreciates the doctors and nurses who are working so hard on the front lines, but he said it's been frustrating not to hear as much concern about the respiratory therapists on the front lines in the media.

"RTs are the only didactically and clinically trained and competency-tested health care professionals to provide high-quality, cost-effective and patient-centric care," he said, adding there's a national shortage of respiratory therapists.

Great Falls College had placed its respiratory therapy program in moratorium early this year before the pandemic had hit the United States, but it decided recently to bring its program out of moratorium in reaction to calls from health care facilities across the state that are experiencing shortages.

In fact, it is expanding the program, pending approval to bring it out of moratorium from the Board of Regents in its November meeting, to include partnerships with City College MSU-Billings and Gallatin College MSU in Bozeman where students will be able to attend remote classes from Great Falls College to become respiratory therapists without leaving their home communities.

The project came about when Gov. Steve Bullock and Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian announced the formation of a OneMSU Worforce Consortium as part of a $180,000 workforce development grant that will allow the three campus to offer their programs to students in other communities.

Respiratory therapy, if approved, will be the focus of the initial effort.

Great Falls College plans to soon begin recruiting for respiratory therapy students for the 2021-2022 school year. It is a two-year program once students are accepted into the program and have completed all of their pre-requisites.


Scott Thompson | Director of communications and marketing
O: 406-771-4314
C: 406-750-0982

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