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Respiratory care a vital department

Respiratory therapist Shirley Wilson checks out patient Susan Boller during her stay at Yampa Valley Medical Center. Respiratory therapists provide a number of services that touch a wide range of patients at the hospital.
John F. Russell

Somewhere hidden within the twisting hallways of Yampa Valley Medical Center is the home of the Respiratory Care Services Department.

Manger Bill Moore admits that it’s a small department – and an even smaller office – but he stresses that it is a vital department that plays a key role in just about everything the medical center does, including neonatal and emergency care, sleep therapy and care for many breathing conditions.

“There are very few patients that come to the hospital that are not seen by our department,” Moore said.



The department’s staff includes seven registered respiratory therapists. One of those trained professionals focuses her work on the sleep lab.

Moore said Yampa Valley Medical Center staffs a respiratory therapist around the clock for inpatient services.



It also provides a number of outpatient services, including pulmonary diagnostics, Trans Tracheal Oxygen Therapy and Pulmonary Rehabilitation, which includes therapy to help patients cope with lung diseases and Asthma education.

Moore said the department provides the day-to-day needs of the hospital and is looking to the future of patient care on a number of fronts.

Two years ago the department opened the Sleep Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center, which is a modest room where patients can be observed sleeping in an effort to diagnose sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea affects more than 12 million people in the United States. Since the Sleep Center opened at Yampa Valley Medical Center, it has seen more than 300 patients.

Speed apnea is a condition in which a patient stops breathing repeatedly during the night, making sleep extremely fragmented and of poor quality.

There are three types of sleep apnea: constructive, obstructive and both. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway is blocked when the soft tissue near the back of the throat collapses. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain fails to signal the muscles to breathe, and mixed sleep is a combination of obstructive and central.

If sleep apnea goes untreated it can result in high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and memory problems.

The sleep center allows patients in Steamboat to be attached to different diagnostic machines and monitors, which provide information about their breathing and sleep patterns during the night.

Moore and his staff work with the center’s medical director, David Kukafka, who uses the information to diagnosis and determine the cause of the sleep apnea and treat the cause.

The sleep center allows patients to stay in Steamboat Springs during the process.

The sleep center also offers a number of other services, including outpatient overnight oxygen level trending.

Moore said his department is also excited about its new pulmonary rehabilitation program.

“Many times, when a patient has to go onto oxygen, it’s like having a six-foot leash,” Moore said.

He said that in some cases, patients decline physically and mentally because they are tied to the oxygen tank.

This program is designed to address the life-changing aspects of oxygen dependency and to provide oxygen options that are more mobile.

Moore said the physical part of the program makes patients stronger and, in most cases, reduces their need for oxygen.

Less oxygen means patients can go longer without replacing oxygen tanks and can live a more normal lifestyle.

“Our goal is to make these patients active again,” Moore said.

The program graduated its first class of patients earlier this summer, and Moore said the gains were remarkable.

“The last thing we want is these patients sitting at home, not eating well and rotting away both physically and mentally,” Moore said.

The Sleep Center and Pulmonary Rehabilitation programs are shining examples of where the Respiratory Care Services department is headed, but Moore says it doesn’t detract from his department’s role in the daily operations at the medical center.

Moore’s staff is fully trained in using the medical center’s highly advanced breathing apparatus and in helping physicians select the proper respiratory treatment of patients.


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