Memorial Health System Respiratory Therapist Rick Weaver was recently honored for mentoring other therapists and encouraging activity in the American Association for Respiratory Care.

Respiratory therapists work with lung-disease and lung-injuries patients, but Weaver has made it his mission to look out for not only his patients, but also his fellow therapists as well.

Weaver chose the medical field when he enlisted in the Army, he worked as a medic and said he spent all his money on travel, stereo equipment and beer. It was the easy life.

Today, the medical field isn’t so easy.

He’s among the ranks that work in the ever-changing, ever-challenging health care industry — and the particular challenges facing Memorial Health System.

But Weaver says he is unfazed, that he loves his job and remains passionate about it.

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He talked to the CSBJ this week about his profession and the changing face of health care.

How long have you been a respiratory therapist and what made you decide to choose that field?

I worked at the copper mines in Bisbee, Ariz., but when they closed, I was left without money to complete my college education. I joined the Army, spending my first three years as a medic in Germany. As young men are wont to do, I spent all my money on travel, stereo equipment and beer. I decided to re-enlist, but for a job that had a civilian equivalent. My choices were licensed practical nurse and respiratory therapist. Choosing not to empty bedpans, I chose respiratory therapy — though I had no idea what they did. I fell in love with the field and am still passionate about it.

What does a respiratory therapist do?

A respiratory therapist has the good fortune to work with patients from premature infants to those at the end of their life. With any illness or injury to the lungs, we will be involved. When you cannot breathe on your own, we manage mechanical ventilation. This might be after you’ve been in an accident, after surgery, or if you’ve had a cardiac arrest. We administer medications to help you breathe. We do diagnostic testing to help your physician diagnose and treat lung disease. We help rehabilitate patients with chronic lung disease much the same way physical therapists do after injury. We’re part of air and ground ambulance transport.

Has the changing health care environment changed your job?

It has in many ways. In a positive light, we now are much more team players who participate in multi-disciplinary rounds and have supportive relationship with other care givers. At Memorial, for years we’ve been using evidence-based protocols to determine therapy and best practice. Hospitals used to be paid on a fee-for-service basis. Give a treatment, get paid. Those days are long gone. Instead, hospitals are paid based on a patient’s diagnosis. We can no longer afford to order any test we want; we have to be smart and do only what has been shown to be effective.

In addition, hospitals are increasingly graded and reimbursed based on excellent patient outcomes. We’re constantly compared to hospitals around the country. We no longer exist as a stand-alone. Also, consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about their illnesses and, justifiably, want to spend their money where they’ll get the best treatment possible.

Finally, every day I see uninsured or under-insured patients that have come to our emergency department solely because they ran out of their medications and need refills. They need disease management, not emergency care. Memorial does have chronic disease management clinics, but community resources are very scarce. It becomes quite a challenge as a business to continue to operate when reimbursement continues to fall and “free” care continues to rise. Could your business-owning readers operate with this model?

You recently won a national award for your work — can you explain the award criteria and why you were chosen?

Over the past six years, I have been very active in my state professional organization, the Colorado Society for Respiratory Care, (CSRC at and our national organization, the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC at I am one of two Delegates from the CSRC to the AARC; we bring state-level concerns to the attention of the national leadership. Becoming a Delegate allowed me to attend the AARC’s International Congress each year, where I got to meet the best-of-the-best in our field. Until recently I supervised Pulmonary Diagnostics, so was an active member of the AARC’s Diagnostics Specialty Section. That section publishes a quarterly bulletin; in 2009, I volunteered to be the editor. My job was to solicit articles and encourage new authors. Over my tenure, a number of first-time authors contributed articles. It was for this mentorship I was selected as the Specialty Practitioner of the Year. I was also a frequent contributor to discussions on a specialty listserv. I think it was as much for my humor and passion (e.g., big mouth) as for any technical expertise that I was honored.

Are there any unique challenges to working in the Colorado Springs health field at this time?

The current proposal to change the governance model or ownership of Memorial is certainly on our minds. Under the terms of the requests for proposals (RFPs), I can speak privately but not publicly about my views. I can say that I have complete faith in our hospital’s senior leadership team and believe they are acting in the best interests of the community and not, as some have stated, their own self-interest. I do want the public to know that, despite this uncertainty, I and all my colleagues have not and will not change our standard of care.