Respiratory therapy program raises awareness in Legislature

Respiratory Graphic-01
Graphic by Brett Ferrin

Due to the increased efforts of Weber State University students, lawmakers are becoming more aware of the importance of having respiratory therapists within physicians’ offices and clinics.

“HR 2619 is the Respiratory Care Access Act, which allows reimbursement from Medicare for services provided by respiratory therapists within physicians’ offices and clinics,” said Sydney Shiba, WSU respiratory therapy major. “If passed into law, this will not only improve patients’ quality of life and education, it will also instantly open up over 100 jobs for bachelorette-level respiratory therapists in Utah.”

Respiratory problems and diseases are prevalent throughout Utah, which makes the need for respiratory therapists even greater.

“This bill would allow RTs to work in doctor offices,” said Michelle Williams, WSU respiratory therapy major. “This is important because patients with lung disease are not being educated.”

On March 28, Utah ranked 26th in the nation for advocacy letters sent to members of the U.S. House and Senate. This ranking was unsatisfactory for some of the students in the WSU respiratory therapy program, like Elizabeth Wilson.

Wilson started sending out mass texts and emails to friends and families asking for their support and to write Congress in regards to the new law. Wilson decided that was not enough, which led her to start contacting fellow students to begin a competition that made headlines throughout the state.

Shiba, Wilson, Williams, Melissa Eaton and Janelle Gardiner were in the group that jumped on board to raise awareness about how important and cost-effective respiratory therapists are to health care.

“Our competition inspired USRC (Utah Society for Respiratory Care) board members to get their families and friends involved, and we were talked about in Washington D.C. by all the lobbyists there to support the bill,” Wilson said.

The American Association of Respiratory Care and the USRC recognized the efforts of WSU students, which inspired them to get on board.

According to Shiba, “the AARC keeps track of emails sent in support of HR 2619,” which allows the AARC to rank states based on the support they give through emails.

“From Friday to Monday, Utah jumped from 26th to eighth place in the nation for support of this bill,” Wilson said. “Then, from Monday to Wednesday, we jumped from eighth to third place. Overall, WSU got more than 550 emails sent from our competition alone.”

Respiratory therapy students have been engaged in other political stances as well, giving many students the chance to be heard and to educate people on the importance of the profession and the respiratory problems facing Utah.

“This isn’t the first time students were active politically on Utah’s Capitol Hill,” said Paul Eberle, chair of the WSU Respiratory Therapy Department. “WSU respiratory therapy students lobbied with Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield and Dr. Neilson for passage of increasing the smoking age to 21 and advocated for greater regulation for e-cigarettes.”

Respiratory therapy is not a well-known profession or a highly regarded field due to the lack of knowledge and exposure in the community.

“We plan to keep pushing our profession further and keep advocating for patient care and the means to give the best patient care, and we are stating with HR 2619,” Shiba said. “We plan to continually be involved in evidences-based research that improves protocols, such as when is the best time to take someone off ventilator support.”

Anyone can join in the effort and help out the respiratory therapy program by sending an email to Congress in support of HR 2619 on Information on the program at WSU is available at

“In the end, WSU Department of Respiratory Therapy is making big news in the community and in the nation for future members in the health care work force,” Eberle said.